Archive for September, 2010

Retention in the Public Service

This past summer, the Public Policy Forum released a report entitled “The Road to Retention” that tackled the issue of retention in the public service. The report was based on the outcomes of a series of workshops with representatives of Canadian workplaces and roughly 300 “Generation Yers” (those between the ages of 18 and 30, from a wide range of regional, linguistic, sectoral, cultural, academic, and socio-economic backgrounds). The intention was to identify what are Generation Y’s values and expectations when it comes to work and the workplace; what is the impact of these values in an organizational setting; how has the conception of work evolved; and how can employers attract and retain young workers.

I believe that the report gave an accurate portrayal of the workplace values of today’s youth (consistent with my own and my colleagues). Some key conclusions that I took away include:

• The not-for-profit and public sectors, in particular, have struggled because of rigid, process-heavy, and risk-averse structures
• Young employees consider mentoring as an essential part of their professional development, and they look for mentors beyond direct supervisors or managers to find colleagues who can inspire, guide and challenge them. Despite the significance of mentoring, participants felt that most organizations today do not provide such opportunities
• Generation Y fuse work, home, and social spheres; they don’t compartmentalize their lives. Thus, Generation Y value “informal work environments” and are not proponents of rigid rules (such as internet censorship at work; attendance rules).
• Generation Y are lifelong learners and don’t consider the end of University as the end of their learning path. Thus, both continuous formal and informal learning pportunities are important and valuable.
• Generation Y value timely critiques about their performance, and when recognition is involved, it does not have to be monetary, but meaningful to the recipient.
• As a generation that thrives on new ideas and risk taking, young employees embrace responsibility and being treated as a “value-add” to the organization. Thus, a stimulating work environment is one that allows employees to challenge assumptions, fosters experimentation, tinkering, and engagement in new surroundings.

The report also goes on to outline 10 recommendations for employers to attract and retain young employees. From a public service perspective, I do think that there are conscious efforts being made to incorporate strategies such as the ones identified in this report, however, it remains at an individual, rather than systematic, level. My own recommendation for the public service would be to have central agencies (such as Treasury Board Secretariat or the Public Service Commission) and unions assume more of an active role in reforming public service management practices to be more consistent with youth values. This can include anything from setting up a cross-departmental mentoring program, to establishing more forums for collaboration and communication (GCForums is a good example of this).

I encourage all public sector employees, from managers down to working level, to read and promote/adopt the recommendations outlined in this report. The report can be downloaded here:

Other Youth Retention Strategies:

Eastern Ontario Development Program – Youth Retention Strategy
A Youth Retention and Attraction Strategy for Newfoundland and Labrador
Saskatchewan Youth Economic Engagement Council