Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Preserving the Public Sector: A Qualitative Examination of Millennial Leaders' Workplace Expectations and Workplace Longevity in the Public Sector

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Paul Johnson (Advisor)

Second Advisor

Hyungsuk Choo (Other)

Third Advisor

Christy Galletta Horner (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Joyce Litten (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Ralph Murphy II (Committee Member)


The purpose of this qualitative hermeneutic phenomenological study was to explore how the public service millennial leader’s lived experiences influence their workplace expectations as it relates to workplace longevity as public sector employees. 12 public service leaders within the City of Detroit were selected for this study because they voluntarily agreed to participate, they self-identified as a millennial, and they held a leadership position within the City of Detroit at the time of the study. Millennial leaders were chosen for this study because they are the future leaders of the U.S. workforce. By 2025, 75% of the workforce will comprise of millennials (Ng & Gossett; Fry, 2016; Henstra & McGowan, 2016). However, millennials are changing jobs every 18 months to 3 years, while many change industries completely. Local government is most threatened by this trend, reporting a 3-4% loss in workforce annually (Ng & Gossett; Fry, 2016; Henstra & McGowan, 2016).

The existing literature indicates a disconnect between millennials who want to lead in the public sector, and their ability or willingness to be retained long-term. Key findings from the study indicate that millennials who work in the public sector have a defined life mission and purpose that is deeply rooted in familial and early life experiences. Millennials are also constantly seeking ways to fulfill their purpose and life’s calling to serve. Adult development and public service motivational theories were used to frame the study. It was recommended that organizational leaders should understand the connection between familial influences and the millennial’s mission, implement cultural honesty, understand what millennials are constantly seeking, provide clear pathways to success and goal attainment, and promote positive peer relationships. Recommendations for future research included understanding psychological contracts and their implications on unmet expectations, understanding millennial preferred leadership styles, and establishing entrepreneurship opportunities inside the organization.