With federal job satisfaction ebbing in recent years because of fiscal pressures and a lack of confidence in top managers, the government’s personnel office on Wednesday highlighted one group of civil servants that seems relatively happy: millennials.

Employees born after 1980 now make up 16 percent of the workforce, and according to a forthcoming survey of federal employees, 86 of those who responded said their work is important. They feel their bosses treat them with respect (83 percent) and support their professional development (66 percent). The data put millennials in a happier state than their counterparts in older generations, if last year’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey is a guide.

The problem for government is that it can’t keep them.

Millennials tend to not stay in their jobs for long — just 3.8 years on average. The numbers suggest that managers may be good at bringing young people into government, but lousy at keeping them happy and employed.


The Office of Personnel Management released this infographic on millennials in the federal government. (OPM)

“They all have something in common,” Office of Personnel Management Director Katherine Archuleta said of federal workers 33 and younger during a briefing with reporters Wednesday on the data, drawn from the 2014 Employee Viewpoint Survey. “They are looking for work that is purpose-driven and where they think they can make a difference.”

But just one-third of the millennials surveyed believed their agencies value creativity and innovation. And only 34 percent reported that they have opportunities to advance in government.

Archuleta said that budget cuts have limited agencies’ ability to offer training to all employees in recent years, but that “training dollars are becoming more available” now.

She acknowledged that few millennials expect to have one job throughout their careers, and that government managers have come to expect them to dip in and out of federal service.

“If you take a look at millennials,” Archuleta said, “We need to recruit and retain them in ways that are different from Gen-Xers or  baby boomers.”

“They have a very different outlook on their work experiences,” she said. “When I talk to them I say, ‘You can come into government and we’ll offer you a great  opportunity to build your resume.'”

She said she hopes millennials can be encouraged, if they’re restless, to seek new jobs at other federal agencies.


Ebonie Johnson Cooper, 30, left, and Darla Bunting, 28, right, take a selfie while attending the Millennial Week opening reception on June 2, 2014 in Washington, DC.. (Amanda Voisard/For the Washington Post)

Employees 33 and younger tend to concentrate in the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Agriculture and Interior departments. Archuleta has traveled around the country in the last year to meet with federal workers and recruit new ones at technical schools where many students have not considered working for the government.

“A lot of millennials are not aware that most federal jobs are out in states across the country,” said Carmen Andujar, OPM’s head of recruitment policy and outreach. “They think all the jobs are in Washington, D.C.”

OPM also has boosted its use of social media to recruit potential young hires.

Wednesday’s report is the first in a series the personnel agency says it will release based on the employee viewpoint survey data. The government-wide survey will be released later this fall. Officials declined to say when.