For the Internal Revenue Service to stay in business, it needs a youth bomb. More than half its employees are over 50 years old. Four years from now, about 40 percent of its workforce will be eligible to retire. Meanwhile, the share of employees under 30 has fallen to less than 3 percent. Half of those under-30s work only part-time. Only 650 people in its 87,000-strong workforce are under 25.
“Essentially, the IRS is facing its own version of the Baby Bust,” said 75-year-old IRS Commissioner John Koskinen in a recent speech. But what kind of a pitch can a recruiter for the IRS make to millennials? Come mentor your parent’s friends? Work with outdated technology? Join a storied bureaucracy?
It seems like an obvious mismatch. But millennials may mesh well with the IRS work culture in ways that aren't obvious. The anti-tax, IRS-bashing advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform (AFTR) released a statement after Koskinen’s speech that dryly suggested young people could fit in well at the dusty government behemoth.
“While millennials are often derided for being anti-social and glued to their technology, this aversion to real life communications makes them an ideal fit with the IRS," wrote 22-year-old AFTR intern Alexander Hendrie. "Already, the agency does not answer phone calls at local offices and does not allow elderly or disabled taxpayers to leave phone messages. Taxpayers have also found it difficult and time consuming to get through to a human being this filing season.”
Hendrie went on to mock the “groundbreaking modern ideas” at the IRS that should appeal to his peers, noting that “one exciting new idea the IRS is trying—on a limited basis—allows taxpayers to set up appointments, instead of waiting in line for hours and hours outside their local office.” Says Hendrie: “The only millennial that would like to work at the IRS would do it ironically, so that they could use a typewriter and snapchat about it every day.”
Millennials do want to work for an organization that benefits society and to see how their work is tied to the bigger picture, says Dan Schawbel, founder of workplacetrends.com. The IRS is doing its best to market itself as such a place: “There’s an agency looking for new talent to enable growth for our entire nation,” reads the recruiting page for students and recent grads. “You’ll be part of a tax collection process that funds our nation’s most vital programs—from securing the nation and protecting social services, to maintaining parklands and forests, building libraries, opening museums, enhancing schools and much, much more.”
Young people also care a lot about having a good work-life balance, and government jobs have a reputation for being 9-to-5. Added bonus: Presumably the job involves staring at computer screens all day. Just change the ugly metal desk to a standing desk, and, voila, it's millennial-friendly. That said, the job's sex appeal is nonexistent. Says Lindsey Pollack, a millennial workplace expert and author of Becoming The Boss: New Rules For The Next Generation of Leaders: "Maybe they need to get a millennial actor to portray an IRS agent" in a movie or TV show.
Actually, it's not just young people that the IRS is having a hard time hiring. A long string of budget cuts means that the agency has had to cut staff through attrition, and hasn't been able to hire much in any demographic. But when it can hire? It wants those millennials.
The real ace the IRS may hold when it can add to staff is that millennials want to rise quickly through organizations. With 40 percent of its employees eligible to retire in 2019, there should be plenty of room for advancement.
Correction, April 6: Fixes spelling of Dan Schawbel's surname in sixth paragraph.
Correction, April 9: Corrects total number of IRS employees in first paragraph.