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

Faust_Motel

Cyburbian
Messages
173
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
1,934
Points
14
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
10,937
Points
32
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
173
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
13,224
Points
33
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
173
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
1,934
Points
14
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
13,224
Points
33
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
5,971
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
173
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?"
 
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