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On being a Director and the Care and feeding of Millennial Employees in a Municipal Environment

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
199
Points
7
So, I'm a new director- I have some great people working for me, but they are younger and want to go a million miles an hour with flexible work hours, work-from-home, floating days off, etc, etc, etc. They do really, really great work but we are in a crusty old municipal environment where you puts your time in at the salt mines and you punch a card at the end of the day. Me? I'm a young Genx. I've been working that slog without (much) complaint for nearly 20 years to get where I am. I like the benefits of municipal work, (great benefits holidays, vacation, personal time, tons of sick time...) but we aren't Google and there's no free snacks in the fridge. And, as a new director, I need to be mindful of balancing my asks to the Big Boss about workplace stuff with the asks I'm making to get my planning agenda off the ground (finally!). Two of my people are in their first "real" jobs ever and seem to have no idea how good they have it as compared to the private sector. Neither have experienced the stability of a rock-solid job that carries you through a bad recession. Neither have spouses or kids that benefit from health insurance... Neither of them seem to understand that the Big Boss isn't going to compartmentalize their issues about wanting more time off away from their desires to push planning initiatives. One blew almost all of the department's social capital last year pursuing a minor grievance against the Big Boss (including an appeal to the big Boss's Bosses, the electeds..) and I think it damaged our department's relationship with said Big Boss.

My question is, for those of you who work with a younger crowd, how do you keep 'em happy? Can you "teach" perspective and a long-term outlook?
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,950
Points
15
I've done a lot of leadership development stuff, so although I don't have great experience managing a whole group of people (I'm a director, but I only have one support staff, who is a millenial), I do have a lot of experience just working with groups in general.

I think the key is to try to direct that ambition and visionary skill appropriately. Is there something you can do to harness that desire to change the world in a controlled way? For example, have monthly or quarterly brainstorming meetings where ideas get generated and fleshed out. Let them take turns facilitating those meetings. Have an open door policy or "office hours" specifically designated for them to bring you ideas on suggested improvements/changes. Find higher level opportunities for them to tag along to - my boss brought me to our budget defense meetings, for example, and while that was not very exciting, it meant a lot that he wanted to expose me to the process. Help them understand the "why" behind the protocol and acknowledge that they have a lot of great ideas, but that there are certain expectations within government that they need to accept. Let them have opportunities to provide meaningful feedback into complex projects.

Is there something beyond the immediate job responsibilities that could maybe use some attention? Maybe they could be tasked with putting together a guide for other millennials called "Things about working in local government that I learned the hard way" covering some of those frustrations that they've had to work through. One of my old localities had "Process Improvement Teams" that would be groups of employees that would address things like employee motivation, organizational communication, etc. Basically, groups designated to come up with ideas to do something good for the overall organization. It was really just an opportunity to direct some of that ambition and energy among people like me that had no chance of getting promoted because there weren't any opportunities, but it was nice to have some leadership opportunities.
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
Moderator
Messages
11,024
Points
33
They seem to crave autonomous projects - the ones I have had didn't like (what I did when I was entry level) writing under someone else's signature or truly assisting so maybe find projects you know they can do on their own and let them run with it?
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
199
Points
7
They
They seem to crave autonomous projects - the ones I have had didn't like (what I did when I was entry level) writing under someone else's signature or truly assisting so maybe find projects you know they can do on their own and let them run with it?
They get tons of autonomy! I'm happy to have them do most everything under their own signature, design projects from the ground up, present their own work product before boards, etc.

It's just the constant carping about time off that seems (to me) to be really out of scale with the actual work. I know they aren't paid as much as they wish they were, but that's out of my hands beyond supporting promotions and internal hires whenever I can (which I have done and they have benefited from). None of them, myself included, can afford to live in the community we work for and that's a sore spot and I get that it's tough to process permits for million-dollar houses day in and day out and then drive home to your little (expensive!) place at the end of the day but lower pay is part of the deal in government. To compensate, I haven't turned down a time-off request yet and don't intend to unless the schedule looks really dire. I encourage them to flex out so nobody's dragging themselves to the office the morning after a late meeting. We haven't jumped into work from home yet because we are a small staff and we do have a counter function that has to be covered.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,301
Points
34
When it comes to things like flex schedules and working 9/80s or 4/10s you need enough people on staff to handle it. It's not like the office is closed. So enough people have to be around to staff the counter, etc. My city has plenty of people so we allow flex days by quarters. 1/4 off week 1 Friday, 1/4 off week 1 Monday, 1/4 off week 2 Friday, 1/4 off week 2 Monday. It keeps 3/4 of our dept. in tact. We also have a policy that new people can't take flex time until their probation period is over with. Although we do work with some of them to handle things like the lady that has to pick up her kids from school cuts her lunch short to leave a few minutes early. You also need employees who won't abuse the flex program and others who are willing to cover when someone flexes. Overall I don't think the big boss would care as long as customer service doesn't change. Does you organization regularly schedule Friday meetings? That might kill it. So flex responsibly.

Little ideas help. You can't pay for a snack bar because the tax payers don't believe in creature comforts around the office, but you can have an employee donated snack bar. I've seen two systems. My current office has a little hidden corner between a couple cubes where we all donate candy, coffee, etc. and take when we need. It works because we're all willing to pitch in once in a while - hard concept for some offices. My last job had a street department that had a table full of snack foods that they bought from Sam's Club. All the employees pitched in to buy the stockpile. There is now a donation bucket (it's a big department) and suggested donations for various snack items. The secretary is nice enough to run out and resupply once in a while.

In general you just have to keep a relatively light office attitude. This doesn't need to be stuffy shirt and tie territory. We wear Hawaiian shirts every Friday because Aloha Friday. More often the employees need to come up with their own side benefits to make them happy within the boundary of the workplace rules. Your job should just be to put a hold on anything that would actually affect service delivery or create unnecessary comments to the boss's boss. Sorry, government work is just not the most millennial friendly environment. You can explain the public perception of government, but I would start a trendy monthly pub crawl and talk about it there. It just sounds like more fun.
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
199
Points
7
When it comes to things like flex schedules and working 9/80s or 4/10s you need enough people on staff to handle it. It's not like the office is closed. So enough people have to be around to staff the counter, etc. My city has plenty of people so we allow flex days by quarters. 1/4 off week 1 Friday, 1/4 off week 1 Monday, 1/4 off week 2 Friday, 1/4 off week 2 Monday. It keeps 3/4 of our dept. in tact.
I figured out a 9/80 for our four-person team that would work. One of the 9 work days days was even a "from home" day but it makes our schedule really sensitive to unplanned absences and longer vacations. I think it's just tough when you have people who have had more experience with a college schedule and its various breaks and "sleep in" days and then you come not just into the working world, but the municipal world at that. I know it was a shock to my system back in the day as well, but I just kind of sucked it up. Things seem different now.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,950
Points
15
I figured out a 9/80 for our four-person team that would work. One of the 9 work days days was even a "from home" day but it makes our schedule really sensitive to unplanned absences and longer vacations. I think it's just tough when you have people who have had more experience with a college schedule and its various breaks and "sleep in" days and then you come not just into the working world, but the municipal world at that. I know it was a shock to my system back in the day as well, but I just kind of sucked it up. Things seem different now.
Honestly, I was just really excited to have a job when I finished college. I would've gone along with pretty much any organizational rules! I'm in the microgeneration between Gen X and Millennials, FWIW.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,301
Points
34
Another thing to consider is that these young employees might not last that long in municipal work. It's just something out of your control. Like you mentioned, benefits and things are not as important to them as work schedules so they might go to the dark side in an effort to get that schedule. In that case, train them up as best as you can so they are decent and understanding on the other side of the counter and make a plan for finding the right employee with the next hire.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,985
Points
29
So, I'm a new director- I have some great people working for me, but they are younger and want to go a million miles an hour with flexible work hours, work-from-home, floating days off, etc, etc, etc. They do really, really great work but we are in a crusty old municipal environment where you puts your time in at the salt mines and you punch a card at the end of the day. Me? I'm a young Genx. I've been working that slog without (much) complaint for nearly 20 years to get where I am. I like the benefits of municipal work, (great benefits holidays, vacation, personal time, tons of sick time...) but we aren't Google and there's no free snacks in the fridge. And, as a new director, I need to be mindful of balancing my asks to the Big Boss about workplace stuff with the asks I'm making to get my planning agenda off the ground (finally!). Two of my people are in their first "real" jobs ever and seem to have no idea how good they have it as compared to the private sector. Neither have experienced the stability of a rock-solid job that carries you through a bad recession. Neither have spouses or kids that benefit from health insurance... Neither of them seem to understand that the Big Boss isn't going to compartmentalize their issues about wanting more time off away from their desires to push planning initiatives. One blew almost all of the department's social capital last year pursuing a minor grievance against the Big Boss (including an appeal to the big Boss's Bosses, the electeds..) and I think it damaged our department's relationship with said Big Boss.

My question is, for those of you who work with a younger crowd, how do you keep 'em happy? Can you "teach" perspective and a long-term outlook?
This is quite possibility the best question I have seen asked on Cyburbia. A similar situation convinced me to leave the field altogether. To quote America's favorite lovable cad, I feel your pain.

I was being hammered to get results on multiple fronts, but I was saddled with an office full of 'townies' who had ecessive levels of civil service protections. Plus, the HR director ran a hard game of interference for the townies. I had planners forging documents, altering reports, covering for friends and relatives, possibly sleeping with the big boss, using their positions to avenge personal grievances, and office staff going home for 3 hour power naps. It was a completely broken department. And yet no matter how much I documented, counseled, and coached I could never fire an employee. I spent half my time on HR crap with zero positive results.

My grumpy old ex-director reflexive response instinct was to suggest that you professionally eviscerate the weakest member of the herd in front of the others, making it quite clear that they will bend to the requirements of the job and that the job will only bend (and only very rarely) to the needs of the best team players.

But, that's not really a working answer. So, I'm going to give this some thought and come back to this question. I do wish you success with this problem.
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
199
Points
7
Another thing to consider is that these young employees might not last that long in municipal work. It's just something out of your control. Like you mentioned, benefits and things are not as important to them as work schedules so they might go to the dark side in an effort to get that schedule. In that case, train them up as best as you can so they are decent and understanding on the other side of the counter and make a plan for finding the right employee with the next hire.
Yup. I've also been working to make sure the positions rely less and less on institutional memory and more on processes, checklists and such. Our most entry level position is far better filled by a motivated person starting their planning career than somebody who's looking for an easy clerical job to milk for the next 20 years- so my push has been to design that position for turnover. With such a small staff, we won't always have the opportunity to move people up internally.

I was being hammered to get results on multiple fronts, but I was saddled with an office full of 'townies' who had ecessive levels of civil service protections. Plus, the HR director ran a hard game of interference for the townies. I had planners forging documents, altering reports, covering for friends and relatives, possibly sleeping with the big boss, using their positions to avenge personal grievances, and office staff going home for 3 hour power naps. It was a completely broken department. And yet no matter how much I documented, counseled, and coached I could never fire an employee. I spent half my time on HR crap with zero positive results.
That sounds awful. Nowhere near that bad here.

I am however quietly documenting time sheet irregularities (mostly late arrivals) for upcoming evaluations. Not so much to ding anybody really bad, but just to say "look, you grieved a 4 hour difference between the personnel policy and reality (people who work Christmas Eve Day work til noon and get paid for the day, people who take the day off have to use a full day of paid leave to do so, Big Boss's tradition), and yet you've been more than 4 hours cumulatively late for work in the last two quarters. Do you want to cut Mgmt. some slack here or do you want to have to start punching a clock every morning?"
 

glutton

Cyburbian
Messages
398
Points
11
Millennial here who started out my career in an understaffed, small, municipal city planning agency in a mid-sized, legacy city. Just pitching in my two cents on this issue:

I left that job for a couple of different reasons. At the time,
  • I didn't see the department being very project oriented or have a strong sense of direction for strategic growth;
  • I didn't feel like I was getting to do the long range planning work that I was promised;
  • I wanted to move to a larger city and be near my friends, family, and classmates on the coast and have more access to big city amenities;
  • I wanted remote work/flex work options;
  • I wanted a faster pace of work;
  • I wanted a salary that reflected the value of getting my master's degree and didn't make me cringe in shame when I told my family how little I made;
  • I wanted diversity - I hated being the youngest one on staff, and one of the few people of color, and the only one whose first language wasn't English;
  • I got tired of living in a a legacy city with a stagnant/declining population, crumbling infrastructure, centuries-old housing stock, and poor air quality;
  • I wanted a 401K. I saw no benefit in having a municipal pension with no employer matching which would only benefit me after 30 years of service.
  • I didn't like that promotions were only possible if someone else more senior left and you applied to their recently vacated job; that was a big wake up call to how municipal budgets worked.
So...after a year and a half I packed up and left for a bigger city to try private sector consulting. A few things I learned there:
  • Planning in bigger cities doesn't necessarily mean it will be more diverse (although the region may be). The planning profession is very White, nearly everywhere you go;
  • While there is a lot more to do, finding community and making friends in bigger cities can be tough because people are super transient and are often out of town on weekends (especially young people);
  • Salaries are indeed higher, but so is cost of living. At the entry level, salaries will probably not match the cost of living, at least not in consulting;
  • The projects can indeed be way cooler in the private sector and in many ways you learn a lot more technical skills, but it's also way more stressful of an environment where you're constantly working;
  • The flex and remote options were great in the private sector, but you also get way less time off. So there's a trade-off.
  • Private sector and consulting exposed me to some of the smartest, most passionate, and brightest people and ideas in the industry. I felt like I was part of the cutting edge of planning and that was thrilling. However, there is more competition in bigger cities and in consulting so it can be more of a competitive atmosphere;
  • Consulting firms by and large can be pretty stingy when it comes to professional development budgets and time;
  • Constantly worrying about billing your time, completing very detailed timesheets, and worrying about being too light or too heavy on work can get very stressful;
  • Free snacks and some nice paint / IKEA furniture / laptops in the office made all the difference in the world in terms of being a nice place to work everyday;
  • Private sector can randomly have layoffs and young employees are often the first to be cut. That was definitely a wake up call and made me appreciate the stability of a public sector job;
Overall, I echo a lot of what the OP said about his or her Millennial employee concerns. When you're 26, most people don't value healthcare benefits. They want to learn, they're able to put in long hours, and they want to feel excited about their work. While starting my career in public sector had many other benefits (ex: making an impact on the local community, giving you face time with everyone and every issue in town, opportunities for on-the-job learning), there were definite drawbacks as well, which made me sometimes regret going public sector as my first job out of grad school.

That being said, it really really depends on where you are working and the size of community. I now work at large, coastal agency that has a lot more resources, strategic vision, fast-pace, and young, diverse, and energetic workforce. Overall, I think it really comes down to location and not necessarily public vs. private. I will always advise any recent graduate to really think long and hard about where in the country they want to live and work and whether it will be a good fit before blindly accepting the first offer letter just to have something in hand (if at all they can afford to do so). The economy is a lot better now and no one will point your nose as to why you have a 4 month gap on your resume right out of school - that's the one time you can without anyone asking why. In the long run, I strongly feel it is imperative to have a variety of experiences in your planning career, both public and private. How you order them is up to you, but for me personally, I feel like starting out my career in a bigger, coastal city and then later moving to a smaller or mid-sized city at a more senior level would have been better for me both professionally and personally.

To the OP - some things can be taught to Millennials (love all the ideas suggested so far on this thread!), and others, you just have to accept that hiring young people (especially those who are from out of state and have no family ties locally) means hiring them for 1-3 years and then they're probably out. Obviously, while dealing with staff turnover is difficult and requires a lot of effort on the part of management, perhaps try to embrace turnover because it will help keep your agency on the forefront of new ideas and new trends in the industry.

Sorry for writing an essay but I hope it helps to have the viewpoint of someone in the same age bracket as your Millennial employees!
 
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Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
1,446
Points
23
The company I work for (which has no ties to planning) has worked a 9/80 schedule for about 20 years (it's been so long I can't remember when it started). Being a big corporation, they're still tied up with a 40 hour work week. To accommodate every other Friday off, they put the end of the week at mid-day on Friday. So a nominal schedule is four 9 hour days from Monday to Thursday, and then another four hours either on the leading Friday or the trailing Friday of the week (if that make sense).

Work from home is allowed but varies widely with team requirements and personal preference of team management (as they have to approve the work from home arrangement). I don't do a regular work from home schedule, but I do it occasionally on an "exception" basis which requires me to notify and get approval from my manager prior to the work from home. (For instance when I got my new roof it was a working Friday so I worked from home.)

For those who work from home as a regular part of their schedule, they have to sign an actual agreement stipulating the terms of their work from home (when they will be available at their computer and by phone, etc.) They also have to take training explaining the general terms of work from home, including the consequences of slacking off which may be verbal warning, loss of work from home privileges, or dismissal, depending of the severity of the violation. Some people work from home full time (although I think they're usually expected to show up in the office one day per month, even if they're telecommuting from another city). Others just do it one or two days per week.

From talking to managers who've been involved with work from home employees, the general impression is Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers do okay with it, but among younger workers there's more likely to be a drop-off in quality/quantity of work done at home, and also more likely for employees to not be available during required times. I'm not sure that the issue is necessarily that they're not doing the best work they can, but as younger employees they may need more direct supervision, or may retain the college habit of doing the majority of the work the day before the deadline instead of working steadily all day, every day. For managers who tend to be older and more old school (or themselves answer to older managers), I think it may be somewhat of a culture clash where the older folks have trouble accepting the work habits of young folks, and younger folks not wanting to worry about following rules so long as they meet their deadlines.

On teams where they've had issues, there's a higher likelihood that the manager will not only revoke work from home for the employees having issues, but canceling work from home altogether, to avoid having to draw a line at how much "abuse" of the system is too much.
 

el Guapo

Capitalist
Messages
5,985
Points
29
[oldmanrant]
I'm not a big fan of classifying people by these generational stereotypes. It just feeds the evil that is identity politics.

However, I am amazed at how people keep tripping over themselves trying to placate the newest members of the workforce. I know this won't suprise many people here but I hold to the view that, "You're not @#$%ing special. Do your job, learn, and show up on time in the right clothes and maybe someday you will be special." In fact, the more 'personality' and 'expression' someone brought to the job, the more likely I was to alter, delay, or end their career path.

The essential crux of the deal from an employer's view point is exchanging a fair day's wage for a fair day's work. When I was spending tax money I took my role as protector of the public purse seriously. If you didn't produce, you didn't stay. The biggest problem with the public sector is managers are not spending their own money. If there was some accountability they wouldn't coddle underproductive employees.

Note: Yes this rant somewhat ignores labor market realities. We can argue about that if you like.

[/oldmanrant]
 

luckless pedestrian

Super Moderator
Moderator
Messages
11,024
Points
33
I understand this completely - the municipal environment may not be able to change to accommodate the needs of the next generation, which isn't good because we all will retire one day and who is going to work here?

Flexible schedules are difficult because the public needs to know when the building is open and that people are there to answer their questions - some flexibility can be accommodated but again, part of the job is reception and not just doing work

Project oriented organization - this could improve if the new and younger elected officials put some claim and teeth to the comp plan - that is supposed to be our orientation and our strategic plan

The capital plan is the long range plan, so again, hopefully younger elected officials will understand this importance

Faster pace - the reason things move slowly isn't always bad - government needs to ensure there is public participation and acceptance

Salary comes from taxpayer dollars so salary is market generated to attract someone but it is also dependent upon other political factors - always come in high

Diversity - yes, it is a white industry but hopefully that will change

401k - more municipalities are going this route or, they offer as an option or in addition - your future self will be grateful if you maxed out all your ability to save pre-tax or as a direct deposit (I worked in a town where direct deposit was the finance officer walking to all the local banks to deposit everyone's check, not kidding)

Promotions - not much can change here as there are a finite number of positions - I left my first municipal job in the 90's only because I had hit the ceiling of how far I could go - I loved it there but it was time to go so that's how it goes

I think it's good advice to move where you want to live and find work there (but be okay with moving on if there is no work there) - and also, there is no shame in working for the weekend, not everyone gets be an astronaut kind of thing, and, it's okay especially if you are working in a place you want to live
 

HomerJ

Cyburbian
Messages
1,040
Points
15
Just to add a little of my own perspective, I think one of the biggest challenges here is the gap between urban planning schools and municipal planning as a profession. A lot of creative-types are attracted to planning programs, but real municipal planning work is so often driven by processes, technical details, legalese, understanding how one fits into a larger organizational structure, etc. I think this at least partially explains why planners can often excel at giving presentations (usually one of the better opportunities to express some creativity). When you have a creative personality, showing up from 8-5 everyday with little to no flexibility just because "those are the rules" is a tough pill to swallow, and unfortunately for some employees I think it's going to be a matter of time and gaining some perspective that will determine how significant of an issue that really is.

As far as suggestions go (how to keep the younger crowd happy), that I'm not sure of. It's a tough question because every place has it's own unique culture and it is very difficult to say what, if anything, will work. Is this the kind of place where the rules are the rules and they are enforced to the T, or is the environment a little bit more relaxed? I'm guessing it's more of the latter based on your description, and perhaps that is part of the frustration here as well. Does it feel like anytime you give more slack, they are just going to continue to push the boundaries? I will say, if an employee is appealing to the elected body and effectively going over both you and your boss with a minor grievance, it sounds to me like that employee is way out of line (either that or there is something really serious going on).

I'll also just play devil's advocate here; is it possible calling them out for time sheet irregularities could backfire? I guess by backfire, I mean is it possible their work quality, willingness to manage their own work/deadlines with minimal oversight, etc. will slip if they feel like their attendance is being monitored in increments of 5,10,15 minutes? This is a tough issue, honestly, which is why I'm not so sure about what I would suggest.
 

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
199
Points
7
I'll also just play devil's advocate here; is it possible calling them out for time sheet irregularities could backfire? I guess by backfire, I mean is it possible their work quality, willingness to manage their own work/deadlines with minimal oversight, etc. will slip if they feel like their attendance is being monitored in increments of 5,10,15 minutes? This is a tough issue, honestly, which is why I'm not so sure about what I would suggest.
Yeah, I decided to separate those two issues. Timeliness was brought up in the evaluation process but not in any way correlated to the grievance issue- it's just too sticky to do that.

My preference is to keep things relaxed (culture, collaboration, time to interact with co-workers, approve all time off requests if possible, etc.) but to demand a high quality of work that is delivered on-time. I'm hoping the rest will work itself out.
 
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