millennials in government

“I want to be allowed to fail”

As a young federal worker, “risk taker” isn’t always a positive trait. Risk means something could fail. If you’re in federal communications like me and have to read the papers each day, failure is what makes the front page. Generally, failure is not an option in government; and because it isn’t an option, neither is workforce innovation ideation and creativity.

As a millennial, I know how this can get interpreted – here is someone who wants to take risks, not think about the consequences, and then be told “everything will be ok” when it doesn’t work out; he probably event wants a trophy for his efforts. You’re not far from the truth (I’d actually like a ribbon instead of a trophy as it is easier to hang on my cube wall). But, my work through Young Government Leaders has given me a slightly different perspective. I get to work hand-in-hand with thousands of future government leaders across the nation at Federal, State, and Local levels. I see their passion, I see their drive, and I see their desire to move our government forward.

The key difference is how my generation defines failure. In its simplest term, failure is failing to reach a goal. If my goal as a federal communicator is to have 10 news stories about a certain project due to my efforts and only 8 are created – I failed to reach my goal. That does not mean I didn’t learn anything and it is a new data point for refining my goals and improving my results in the future. When I tell my boss “I failed,” it means I had a goal and was unable to meet it. It is then my job to learn, adjust, and look for ways to create better future results.

This is where I see new federal employees get frustrated. They bring a new perspective and want to be given the responsibility to “fail” in areas they think they can improve. Does it mean that each suggestion should be tried? Absolutely not. But, it is our job as managers to empower and support our employees to take small risks and always be looking for ways to improve our work.  

The conversation needs to change from “you can’t fail,” to “what did you learn from your failure.” That is how you engage and retain your young government employees. And who knows, maybe their work will eventually lead to you and your team receiving a trophy or ribbon.


By Kevin Richman, Chief Relationship Officer, Young Government Leaders

To learn more about Young Government Leaders’ work to increase employees’ commitment to and passion for public service, and to join for free, visit

Posted in Young Gov

Tags: Young Government Leaders, YGL, millennials, management



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