Addressing Generational Differences

January 28, 2021 by Lily Rexing

Addressing Generational Differences

People across the country are changing the ways in which they interact with their local government. These changes were in many cases accelerated with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when more traditional channels of engagement closed overnight. The Health and Human Services Department, for instance, reported 43.5% of Medicare primary care visits in April 2020 happened through telehealth, compared with less than 0.1% in February of that same year.

Other changes are the result of natural generational differences as younger cohorts become new voters, taxpayers, or homeowners. According to recent research, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, and Gen Z constituents all prefer to receive information and engage with government agencies in different ways.

This matters for governments trying to reach and serve all community members. Between texts, phone calls, in-person visits, and self-service, what are constituents’ preferences?

A recent GovLoop survey measured just how government agencies are reacting to generational differences in order to reach all residents. The answers of 106 federal, state, and local government employees tell an interesting story.

  1. Entry points of communication are changing.
    When asked about the main ways customers engage with their agency, 54% of respondents chose over-the-phone communication. However, only 15% cited this as a top growth channel over the past two years. By contrast, website and social media communications surfaced as top growth channels by 47% and 32% of respondents, respectively. These are both channels that were less relevant and even nonexistent when older generations originally started interacting with government. Now, however, they are increasingly valuable, not to mention expected, and offer enhanced accessibility to everyone.

  2. Agencies see value in accounting for generational differences.
    Respondents across the board indicated that understanding and attending to generational differences can create new opportunities for government. Gen X respondents cited opportunity in more meaningful engagement while Millennial respondents saw most opportunity in more engagement with customers overall. All respondents noted improved constituent service could follow more consideration of generational differences.

  3. More information about generational differences will facilitate change.
    There is work to be done in truly understanding how generational differences will impact the future of government communication channels. Thirty-four percent of respondents cited that the biggest barrier to change was a lack of training or knowledge on generational differences. Essentially, government agencies need to convert perceived value into actual value through data-driven approaches to change.

Seeking user feedback, creatively leveraging existing technology, and creating a roadmap of priorities are a few concrete things governments can do to begin to address differences and enhance service. Tyler Technologies’ unique application of new generational research with practical applications to local government and school district service areas is a valuable tool.

While the survey considered Boomers, Gen X, and Millennial constituents, the findings also highlight the importance of examining how Gen Z perceives and interacts with government. Each generation has its own preferences, and Gen Z is no exception.

Striking the balance between all generations holds great promise in improving government service, enhancing public engagement, and creating stronger communities.

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