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Civilian financial management: generational change is coming to an organization near you: as a line in the song goes, the future is now--and the financial management workforce will never be the same.

The greatest challenge in today's workplace is in interacting with other people, for people come to the workplace with differing backgrounds, values, and ideas. Employee age (generation, really) adds to that complexity. Young workers bring fresh ideas and technological skills to the organization; older employees have experience and contribute insight. Based on shifting age demographics, the face of the civilian workforce in the Defense financial management (FM) community will change dramatically in the years ahead. This should be a rallying call for workforce managers and other leaders to focus their human resource efforts on meeting the needs of their lower-grade and mid-level civilians by adopting various career and recruitment options for this group of employees.

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Why? Simply stated, these employees are our future.

A disproportionately large percentage of the present Defense FM civilian workforce will be eligible to retire within the next 10 years, and we must be prepared. Along with the migration of senior and experienced employees will come a demographic shift among the generational groups, which researchers have described as Traditionalists, Baby Boomers, Generation Xers, and Millennials. Each group brings different priorities and attitudes to the workplace. Understanding these demographic trends will be key to human resource planning for the future of financial management.

Most researchers define the differences in generation by classifying groups by age: Baby Boomers, born between 1943 and 1960; Generation X, born between 1960 and 1980; and Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000. Some classifiers label this last group as Nexters, Generation Y, and even Generation "Why." The fourth group, the Veterans, born before 1943 and sometimes called the Traditionalists, also play in this setting. They have had a tremendous impact in the workplace; however, their numbers still active in the workforce are dwindling. Figure 1 illustrates how civilians in the United States Air Force (USAF) and civilians in the USAF FM community fall into these generation groups.
 GROUP AGE YEARS % in AF % in FM
 CIVIL CAREER
 SERVICE FIELD
Veterans 65-86 1922-1943 2% 2%
Baby Boomers 48-65 1943-1960 48% 52%
Generation X 28-438 1960-1980 44% 41%
Millennials 8-28 1980-2000 6% 5%

Source: Grouping by age and years born from Zemke, Raines, and
Filipczak, Generations At Work: Managing the Clash of Veterans,
Boomers, Xers and Nexters in Your Workplace. Percent in AF Civil
Service and percent in USAF FM data as of July 2009 from the
Defense Civilian Personnel Data System, originating from the Office
of Personnel Management (OPM), furnished by Robert Kerr (AF/A1PF)
in an e-mail to one of the authors.)


Understandably, there are few absolutes in the study of generational conduct. Any study of human behavior is a study of generalizations, and no matter what is argued or how strongly the case is presented, there will always be exceptions. Individuals from one age group may act like those in another (or not). There are differences on the individual level as well as at the aggregate level.

Changes on the Horizon

Before anyone can make assumptions on how best to deal with the changing age demographics of civilians in the Defense FM community, one first must fully understand those changes. Baby Boomers represent a large population segment, and this group is at or nearing retirement. The nation's workforce, as a whole, is shifting more to Gen Xers and Millennials. This change will significantly impact the FM civilian career field in the next 10 to 20 years. Using the USAF as an example, the generational groupings suggest over 50 percent of its entire civilian workforce is either eligible to retire today or will become eligible within the next 10 years. (1)This means the few remaining Veterans left in civil service, plus a large majority of Baby Boomers--and even a few Gen Xers--will be either retired or eligible to retire by 2018.

Since the FM workforce comprises more Baby Boomers than Gen Xers when compared to the overall USAF civilian workforce, one can assume that the impact on the FM community will be even greater with the likelihood of more retirements than in other civilian career fields. While strategic plans tend to address the need to recruit, retain, and train high-quality FM personnel, there is a real need to incorporate the impacts of the upcoming generational shift and the need to create a human capital development/replacement construct that is ready to respond.

Concerns about Upcoming Generational Changes

Is the future shift in workforce age structure a significant problem? It is, according to the current group of financial managers in the Department of Defense (DoD). In the spring of 2008, the American Society of Military Comptrollers partnered with Grant Thornton, LLP (a large accounting and management consulting firm) to survey 575 DoD and Coast Guard FM professionals concerning topics deemed most important to the future of Defense FM. While the survey may have drawn upon a relatively low sample of Defense financial managers, it did reflect the opinions of a substantial number of respondents. (2) In the human capital area, respondents mentioned the retirement of the aging workforce most often as the greatest area of concern. Additionally, senior leaders saw the corresponding imperative for proper knowledge transfer to those employees who remain or replace those leaving. The executives surveyed indicated a need for better succession planning and help in locating replacements.

Since the military services rely heavily on retired military personnel to fill their civilian gaps, perhaps no immediate crisis is looming. But reality suggests that this solution only defers the problem since military retirees themselves (mostly Boomers) will likely leave the workforce entirely in 10 to 20 years.

Understanding the Players

It is useful to understand each generational group and how its members interact in the workplace. Essentially Boomers, Xers, and Millennials all work and live in different cultures. The Gen Xers are the next generation of leaders within Defense FM civil service. They are independent workers on the career fast track and are generally ambitious and goal-oriented (not unlike generations before them). They are self-confident and frequently see themselves as ready--even deserving--of promotion right now. Xers learn quickly, are technologically savvy and training-focused, and appreciate self-control of their time. They attach importance to getting the job done over tenure in the workplace; Baby Boomers and Veterans place equal value on both. Xers avoid the hard-core, super-motivated work ethic of the Baby Boomer, preferring a balance between their work lives and nonwork lives. (3) With the anticipated mass retirement of the Boomers looming, the Xers may now advance into higher FM civilian positions. Xers expect to advance based on their abilities and not their loyalties to the organization.

Boomers, on the other hand, freely accept authority, do not shy away from hard work and long hours, and expect loyalty from those with whom they work. (4) Additionally, probably because Boomers didn't grow up with computer technology, they often believe technology brings as many problems with it as it brings solutions. This is counter to Gen X employees, who believe technology is something to embrace as a way to maintain control of their lives.

Compare this with the youngest group, the Millennials, for whom technology is the norm, as their lives are surrounded by cell phones/cameras, laptops, iPods, and GPS (global positioning system) devices. (5) Millennials have never experienced life without computers--they are "digital natives." They have web pages, they seek social contacts online, and they thrive on instantaneous access to information. Millennials seek a variety of work experiences that provide personal fulfillment and often will seek out those individuals (of any generation) who will help them achieve their goals. The Millennials may find working with a Veteran just as easy as working with a Baby Boomer or a Gen Xer. (6)

These differences in how each generation thinks may lead to conflicts between the groups--this is both natural and manageable. For example, a Boomer may expect more loyalty than a Millennial is willing to give. Likewise, a Gen Xer may not agree with an assumed organizational policy of working overtime on a habitual basis, even though the practice may have originated years before in a Traditionalist-or Boomer-dominated workplace. As long as there's a healthy mix of different employees of differing ages, there will be some conflict. The best way to handle the conflict is to simply embrace the generational differences along with the value they bring to the table. Said another way, the DoD needs to find the recipe that positively blends all these ingredients for a tasteful outcome.

What Private Industry Can Teach Us

The private sector is experiencing the same generational shifts as in the Defense FM community. Industries will face the same challenges as their Baby Boomers begin to retire, as Gen Xers move into leadership positions, and with the initial employment of Millennials. Three companies that have adapted by embracing the changes include the West Group, Inc., a legal information firm headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota; Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, an audit, tax consulting, and financial advisory firm based in Switzerland and operating under the name Deloitte LLP in the United States; and Salesforce.com, a management software company operating worldwide. Perhaps these three companies offer benchmarking opportunities for DoD FM.

West Group, Inc., and the Freedom to Feel Comfortable at Work

West Group, previously entrenched in the Veteran environment of leather-bound law books and stuffy lawyers' offices, transformed itself into an employer of choice for Gen Xers and Baby Boomers alike. The firm did away with rows and rows of typical "Dilbertville" cubicles and replaced them with cubicles of different shapes, sizes, and colors; some even with arched passages. On the company premises, they added a Caribou Coffee shop, with outlets and modem jacks so employees could work in a relaxing environment and not be chained to a desk. (7)

The transformation at West Group, however, was about more than just changing its physical appearance. Knowing that Gen Xers sometimes felt trapped in their jobs and preferred to change jobs frequently to experience different things, West Group encouraged its employees to stay with the company by offering them different job opportunities within the firm. That strategy was successful. In addition to retaining the needed talent, employee stability reduced the need to expend recruiting and hiring dollars.

These are only two of the changes West Group made in response to the changing generational environment. Employees who witnessed West Group's change from a stodgy law office with boring law books to a dynamic information management company offering an appealing work environment and a variety of career choices for their employees called the transformation the "new West."

Deloitte LLP and the Value of Self-Examination

Like West Group, Deloitte experienced a high turnover of young workers and through self-examination found the problems were internal to the company. Two-thirds of those leaving the organization to try something different could have done so within Deloitte, but the company made it difficult for them to transition. Later, Deloitte realized that there were instances where management could have found other sought-after positions within the firm for those young employees. Deloitte determined the opportunity cost of losing these talented staff members was about $150,000 spent to recruit and train each new (replacement) employee. (8)

In another example, Deloitte senior partners (Baby Boomers) were upset that younger employees (Millennials) complained about working on weekends. Weekend work was readily accepted by the Boomers. Deloitte realized that the Millennials did not need to be reeducated on the ways of the company; rather, the older managers in the company were the ones needing education in how to incentivize the younger workforce. To solve the problem, Deloitte produced a series of training brochures for older employees to help them understand the new younger workforce. (9)

Deloitte didn't stop at reeducating its older employees. Because Baby Boomers were retiring in large numbers and many Generation X employees refused to work long hours in favor of quality time away from work, the demand for Millennials among competing companies became high. Deloitte tapped into the Millennial market by focusing on technology, something the Millennials embrace. The company came up with the idea of sponsoring an online film competition and using the Internet and YouTube as marketing venues for prospective and existing employees. These initiatives attracted a great deal of interest by Millennials. Management also used this competition to open dialogues with the contestants. (10) The results were tremendous. Millennials began to view Deloitte not as a traditional accounting firm but rather as a great place to work.

The issues and solutions both at West Group and Deloitte may be useful to the Defense FM civilian workforce. Younger workers may have an image in their mind of what work at a government agency may be like. That image, if based on Traditionalist or Baby Boomer values, may be enough to turn younger workers away from seeking employment. Now may be the time to re-evaluate whom the Defense FM career fields need to hire and how best to attract them.

Salesforce.com and the Opportunity to Give Back

The challenge for Salesforce.com, a relatively young company, was in recruiting Millennials. People in this generation group often seek work that has meaning and frequently prefer employment at companies that provide volunteer opportunities. (11) The company created a foundation to give 1 percent of its profits to charity, encouraged employees to donate 1 percent of their working time to the community, and facilitated community engagement by finding volunteer opportunities and programs for its employees. (12) Obviously, this approach is not directly transferable to government, but there may be an opportunity to adapt this idea by promoting the charitable opportunities within professional societies such as the American Society of Military Comptrollers.

The Final Analysis

The Defense FM community of the twenty-first century requires a transformed civilian workforce. A different generation of workers will dominate the workplace of the future, and the current generation must be well prepared to adapt to this change. There is a demographic shift coming in large numbers, and specific steps need to take place to properly transfer knowledge to the younger workforce and to indeed ensure that "the replacements are here."

Many in industry have already faced these challenges and have successfully adapted to a younger workforce. For the Defense FM community, some ideas may be easy to implement; however, the public sector environment of rules and regulations will present challenges and controversies as well as opportunities for innovative thinking. Can Defense FM leadership and career managers meet the challenges of the changing workforce of the future? Absolutely! The rallying call is to include a focus on managing across the ages.

ENDNOTES

(1) U.S. Air Force Interactive Demographic Analysis System database, accessed 4 September 2008.

(2) Vice Admiral Lewis W. Crenshaw, Jr., U.S. Navy (Ret), "Top Concerns of the Defense Financial Community," Armed Forces Comptroller 53, no.3 (Summer 2008): 37-39.

(3) Shirley Davis, Leveraging Generational Diversity in Your Chapter, 17-18.

(4) Ibid., 14.

(5) Shirley Davis, Leveraging Generational Diversity in Your Chapter, 21.

(6) Shirley Davis, Leveraging Generational Diversity in Your Chapter, 22.

(7) Ron Zemke, Claire Raines, and Bob Filipczak, Generations At Work, 178-179.

(8) Penelope Trunk, "What Gen Y Really Wants," Time, 5 July 2007, http://www. time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1640395,00.html.

(9) Ibid., 1.

(10) Eve Tahmincioglu, "Job Perks Galore For Twentysomethings: Employers Scramble to Hire Gen Y Talent as Baby Boomers Head Out Door [sic], "MSNBC, 14 October 2007, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21209301/, 1.

(11) Trunk, "What Gen Y Really Wants."

(12) Salesforce.com Foundation, http://www.salesforce.com/foundation, website accessed on 30 October 2008.

BY Keith A. Hicks, CDFM, and Colonel Barbara J. Gilchrist

KEITH A. HICKS, CDFM

Keith A. Hicks is assigned to the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Financial Management and Comptroller (Budget) in the Pentagon. A member of ASMC's Washington Chapter, he has over 12 years' experience in the Air Force as a career civilian.

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BARBARA J. GILCHRIST

Colonel Barbara J. Gilchrist is the Director of the Defense Financial Management and Comptroller School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. A former MAJCOM/FM and comptroller squadron commander, she has had experience at base, headquarters, and Air Staff levels. She is a member of ASMC's Alamo City Chapter and is a past ASMC chapter president.

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"Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it."

--George Orwell
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Author:Hicks, Keith A.; Gilchrist, Colonel Barbara J.
Publication:Armed Forces Comptroller
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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