Introducing the 2015 “Company Man” with Eric Ameigh, City of Boulder, CO

Posted on January 29, 2015

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Eric Ameigh outlined his theory on the local government workplace in his first article, and now, he returns with supporting evidence. 

The 2015 “Company Man”


By: Eric AmeighLinkedIn

In my first article for ELGL, I wrote about my introduction to ELGL and key takeaways from #ELGL14. I asked a lot of questions about the meaning of ELGL and about local government organizations’ posture toward younger employees. I concluded that early to mid-career local government professionals today, at this moment, are having a fundamentally different experience from that of our predecessors. Furthermore, I speculated that two forces at work would guarantee the different experience remains different. One of those forces is the emergence of Millennials in our local government workforces.

images (2)Generational differences don’t explain everything. But they are real. Workers in the first half of their careers, which is generally Millennials and young Xers, have different expectations from their predecessors and bosses who sit atop our local government hierarchies. For example, the funny, passionate, and whip smart local government employees I know in government, are looking for a diversity of experiences, not a career ladder. They want to learn and get better at what they do, and that might not always be government work. Local government may be only one stop in a diverse career path. It’s looking more and more likely that the “company man” has gone the way of the landline phone.

We Need to Experiment

duckface_millennialMillennial journalist Derek Thompson wrote recently in the Atlantic about the findings from a study on youth unemployment by a group of economists, including Henry E. Siu from the University of British Columbia, and those findings help illustrate why Millennials in particular are different in their approach to career (emphasis mine):

I always assumed that youth unemployment was higher because it was harder to find a job than keep one, and most people graduating from college or high school are starting at zero.

Siu informed me that I have it backwards. “You can quite clearly see the reason young people have relatively higher unemployment is not because they have a harder time finding jobs,” he said. “Actually, they find jobs with greater ease than somebody who is 45 or 55. But they are more likely to leave a job.”

In conversations with executives at larger companies about Millennial behavior, I’ve heard over and over that young people today are more likely to quit quickly. This has been used as an excuse to not training young workers—why invest in an asset that’s going to disappear in a few months, anyway? But Siu said that young people aren’t any more likely to quit today than they were in the 1970s or 1980s. But once they leave, young people today are more likely to try out an entirely new job. (For the technical-minded: the “separation rate” for young people isn’t radically different than it used to be, but “occupational switching” is up.)

In Siu’s words: “For the HR person considering a young worker, it’s not true to say, ‘If I hire them they are more likely to leave my firm.’ That likelihood hasn’t changed. But if that person does leave my firm, the next job is more likely to be totally different.” Young people aren’t quitting more. They’re experimenting more.

We Need More than a Kids Table

1Whether workers want a spot inside local government or out of it, they want it fast. This is partly a result of the technology-saturated world in which younger employees, especially Millennials, grew up. But it’s also likely a result of a certain kind of maturity that they’ve developed. In my experience, if you are an emerging local government leader in your 20s or 30s, you have ambition of a sort, you are well educated, you are articulate, you are confident, and you are comfortable in the presence of older managers and elected officials. I think this in large part because you were admitted to the world of adults by your AP teachers and your parents who read and discussed the New York Times with you at the breakfast table. And you were probably in “leadership training” as early as middle school. Am I right? You’ve been groomed for action your whole life. Now you don’t see any reason why you should be moved to the kids table and wait another 10 years to make an impact.

We Need to Make an Impact….Now

images (3)Motivational speaker and leadership author Simon Sinek describes how the combination of Millennials’ unique sense of idealism and technology-driven addiction to instant gratification may be altering the way younger people interface with the public service they say they care so much about:

A side effect could be a generation that struggles to find happiness and fulfillment even more than the generations that preceded them. Though there is a desire to do good, their acculturated impatience means that few will commit time or effort to one thing long enough to see the effect of service — the thing we know gives a sense of fulfillment. In doing research for this book, I kept meeting amazing, wonderful, smart, driven and optimistic Gen Yers who were either disillusioned with their entry-level jobs or quitting to find a new job that will “allow me to make an impact in the world,” discounting the time and energy that is required to do it.

It’s like they are standing at the foot of a mountain looking at the effect they want to have or success they want to feel at the peak. There is nothing wrong with looking for a faster way to scale the mountain. If they want to take a helicopter or invent a climbing machine that gets them up there quicker, more power to them. What they seem to fail to notice, however, is the mountain.

We Need Work-Life Balance

If my peers have the attention span to commit to more than a few years in local government, they are often content without being a city manager or department head. Surely a seasoned manager can understand the reasons a young person would feel that way. But, for those who are not in the know, I offer up one hackneyed but generationally appropriate phrase for your consideration: work-life balance.

Among my under-40 local government colleagues, there is not one who aspires to put in the kinds of hours they see their managers enduring. (Although to be fair, their managers may not aspire to it either.) This is especially true for those who are parents and–here’s where the generational differences kick in once again–many of those parents are fathers. Against the backdrop of the always simmering but recently inflamed national conversation about women having it all and leaning in, I’ve observed a desire by dads to give their kids and partners equal billing with their jobs. Women are leading the charge for balance but, with the other half of the workforce now actively pushing the issue, how long until balance and flexibility are non-negotiable components of employment for men and women–in local government.

We Need to Continue the Discussion

These are a handful of key attributes that I have observed impacting employees’ relationship to their work in local government. My comments are not meant to establish or reinforce stereotypes about the under-40 crowd. ELGL rejects stereotypes and so do I. This hard to define group of people with a lot of complexities. There is more to say about our new generation of potential co-workers monolithic or incredibly diverse, and there is an abundance of resources on the subject.

In Part II, I’ll highlight ideas for creating an attractive work environment for the highly intelligent, idealistic, disloyal, experimenting, tech savvy, uncompromising, impatient, and service minded people that local governments will need to incorporate into the workplace.

Balancing Act


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