MetLife Employee Benefit Trends Study: Government Employees

MetLife Employee Benefit Trends

The Power of Purpose for the Government Workforce

It’s official. Millennials are now the largest generation in the U.S. workforce, representing 35 percent of American workers.1 With baby boomers continuing to retire in droves over the next few years, the changing employee demographics are having a dramatic impact on the work-life world.

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The value of purpose

Across generations


Purpose: government employers vs. employees

As millennial and Gen Z employees replace baby boomers in the workforce, the employer-employee dynamics must shift to align with different generational expectations and experiences. Combined with a fast-changing, always-connected world that’s redefining how – and where – people work, it’s not surprising that government employees, like their private-sector peers, look to their employers for help in navigating their blended work-life worlds.

Today’s employees define themselves through a blend of work and life. As a result, they seek a sense of purpose as a vital element of overall happiness. For government employees, the desire for work that contributes to the community and society overall is amplified compared to private sector employees.

Among millennials and Gen Z employees in the public sector, eight in ten (79%) seek work that connects to the greater good of society.

Contributing to the greater good of society = work purpose


private sector employees


government employees


Millennial and Gen Z public sector employees

As government employers look to increase the ability to recruit and retain younger workers, an increased focus on purpose, culture, and meaningful work will be a competitive advantage. However, only 30 percent of government employers see creating a more purpose-driven work culture as a current challenge

A sense of purpose, workplace culture, and the opportunity to do meaningful work all play pivotal roles in why government employees decide to accept or stay in a position. But their employers are not fully recognizing the extent these elements influence their ability to attract and retain employees. Overall, the gap between employer and employee perceptions is widest when it comes to assessing the importance of meaningful work.

The perception gap on purpose
71% Government employers (% saying it’s important) Employer’s mission, purpose and values
80% Government employees (must-have or nice to have) Employer’s mission, purpose and values
78% Government employers (% saying it’s important) Workplace culture
85% Government employees (must-have or nice to have) Workplace culture
69% Government employers (% saying it’s important) Meaningful work the provides a sense of purpose
94% Government employees (must-have or nice to have) Meaningful work the provides a sense of purpose

For younger workers, these three factors rank even higher in importance, and they may be more willing to take action based on them. Research shows that 86 percent of millennials say they would consider a pay cut in order to work for an employer with values in synch with their own.2

Government workers age average


of government employees are under age 30        


of government employees are age 50 or older.3

Across generations: evolving employee benefits

Historically, employee benefits and defined pension plans have been a differentiator for government employers when it comes to hiring and retaining employees. Today, 61 percent of government employers still see their comprehensive benefits program as something they provide to make their employees feel valued. Just over half (54%) of their employees agree, but the number drops to one in three for millennials and Gen Z employees.

Top 5 benefits objectives for government employers

Retaining employees
Controlling health and welfare benefits costs
Increasing employee productivity
Attracting employees
Increasing employee engagement

As workplace and career expectations evolve, benefits will continue to be an integral part of how public sector employers support their employees. With younger workers prioritizing purpose and overall work-life fulfillment, taking a fresh look at an organization’s benefits strategy is essential to help workplace culture and employee engagement keep pace.

Better benefits are at the top of employees’ lists, behind only salary and work environment, of what they need to navigate their work-life worlds and succeed at work. A benefits strategy that looks beyond the traditional enables employers to better meet individualized needs while driving employee satisfaction and retention.

Flexible benefits that can be tailored to match employee needs can also be a differentiator when competing to attract employees, especially younger generations. Having access to a wider array of non-traditional, non-medical benefits has broad appeal, with more than half (52 percent) of government employees saying they would be interested even if they have to cover some of the costs themselves. Employee interest is increasing, up from 47 percent in 2018.

Employee stat

Having benefits customized to meet my needs would increase my loyalty to my employer:


Along with voluntary benefits, such as accident and critical illness insurance or pre-paid legal services plans, employees are looking for greater flexibility overall. Government employers lag private sector counterparts when it comes to flexible work arrangements with 29 percent of government employers offering flexible schedules compared to 51 percent of all employers.

Looking ahead, government employees across generations are also interested in emerging benefits, such as wellness programs, paid sabbaticals, and phased retirement.  For each of these, millennial and Gen Z employees express higher interest levels than the overall average.


In a changing work world, where employees often put purpose over tenure of employment – and sometimes salary – recruiting and retaining employees may require a shift in emphasis for employers.

By dialing up how the work contributes to the communities they serve, government entities will be well-positioned to stand out when competing for talent. At the same time, forward-looking government employers can optimize the benefits options offered to a diverse workforce. By adopting a more holistic approach and integrating benefits within a vibrant, purpose-driven culture, employers can help employees thrive, both inside and outside of the workplace.

Explore more insights about the evolving work-life world.

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1 FactTank, Pew Research Center, April 2018.

2 Workplace Culture Report, LinkedIn, 2019.

3 FedScope, Age of US Federal Government Employees, March 2018

Unless noted otherwise, all findings are from the 17th annual MetLife U.S. Employee Benefit Trends Studyresearch, 2019.