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New MissionSquare Research Institute Report Finds Meaningful Work and Workplace Culture are Top Priorities for Younger Workers

January 12, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 12, 2023 – As state and local governments continue to struggle to fill jobs while also facing a large wave of employee retirements, a new report from MissionSquare Research Institute provides critical insights on what draws younger workers to public service careers. The local government fellowship applicants surveyed overwhelmingly agree that meaningful work is their top priority, followed by workplace culture and compensation. These workers also say they place a high importance on an inclusive work environment, and personal recommendations are a key driver in deciding to apply for a government position.

These findings are contained in a new report, New Career Entrants to Public Service: Lessons for Employers from Fellowship Applicants, developed in partnership with Lead For America (LFA), a national nonprofit that helps outstanding young people become civic leaders in communities across the nation. Read the research. Read the infographic.

"The report is a treasure trove of insights for community leaders who want to attract younger workers to public service careers," said Gerald Young, Report Author and Senior Research Analyst with MissionSquare Research Institute. "It's clear that a strong workplace culture and solid benefits are magnets for younger workers. The research also reveals that public service recruitment efforts should emphasize the agency mission rather than job tasks, while also focusing on what younger job candidates value."

"A key takeaway from this research is that competitive benefits matter to younger workers," said Lynne Ford, CEO and President of MissionSquare Retirement. "This means that state and local government leaders are wise to continue offering strong traditional benefits like healthcare and retirement, while also looking at non-traditional benefits like flexibility, student loan repayment, and childcare. It’s always going to be difficult for governments to compete on salary, so benefits can help make up the difference to make a job appealing," Ford said.

"We know that young Americans are deeply committed to public service," said Joe Nail, LFA Co-founder and Chief Operating Officer. "Our partnership with MissonSquare Research Institute provides a valuable and thorough analysis of the public service motivations of our fellowship candidates, along with further evidence that local governments indeed can attract and retain outstanding young workers to a modern workplace. Our communities are strongest when local people solve local problems. By making a concerted effort to attract and retain homegrown young leaders, governments are investing in their community's long-term success."

Key findings among those surveyed are as follows:

  • Meaningful work was identified as the top priority, followed by workplace culture, and compensation and benefits.
  • 83% find local government benefits to be competitive, while 32% find agency salaries competitive.
  • The reputation of the employer as a great place to work is rated highly by survey respondents, either as very important (42%) or somewhat important (47%).
  • 58% identified paid leave as being very important, more than three times as many as considered high wages to be very important (18%).
  • Regarding the hiring process, measures relating to transparency and communication were rated as most important, with timeliness of hiring and application complexity ranked as less important considerations.
  • 81% say applying for a position is influenced by personal recommendations.
  • 77% say employer mindfulness of an inclusive and welcoming environment for all identities is very important.
  • 71% expect to serve in an entry-level position for one to two years prior to receiving a promotion.
  • 62% say COVID-19 has increased their interest in public service employment.

The report is based on a survey of LFA fellowship candidates fielded from April 11 through May 25, 2022. The survey garnered 102 responses and gauged motivations toward public service, impressions of the LFA fellowship application process, and career aspirations.

MissionSquare Research Institute promotes excellence in state and local government and other public service organizations to attract and retain talented employees. The organization identifies leading practices and conducts research on retirement plans, health and wellness benefits, workforce demographics and skill set needs, labor force development, and topics facing the not-for-profit industry and education sector. MissionSquare Research Institute brings together leaders and respected researchers. More information and access to research and publications are available at

Lead For America Lead For America is a national nonprofit that helps outstanding young people become civic leaders. LFA seeks to direct homegrown talent where it's needed most, in towns and counties where challenges outpace resources available, often in rural and under-resourced communities. Through the flagship Fellows program, LFA has funded and placed over 130 Fellows in over 80 communities and 31 states in newly-created positions in their home communities since 2019. Combined, LFA Fellows have leveraged more than $17 million for their communities and impacted the lives of more than 13.5 million people. Lead For America national headquarters is located in Kansas with a presence in both Dodge and Wichita, Kansas.

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