Police Interview Newsletter - "Baby Boomers" Rule

Volume 3, Issue 4
July/August 2004

In his Generations At Work, presented at the Greater Washington Society of Association Executives in 2001, Ron Zemke offered the following remarks:

“At no time in our history have so many and such different generations with such diversity been asked to work shoulder to shoulder, side by side, cubicle by cubicle. The once linear nature of power at work, from older to younger, has been dislocated by changes in life expectancy, increase in longevity and health, as well as changes in lifestyle, technology, and knowledge base.”

“Understanding generational differences is critical to making them work for, not against, your organization. It is critical to creating harmony, mutual respect, and joint effort where today there is often suspicion, mistrust, isolation, and turnover.” (p.1)

Law enforcement agencies are experiencing these same changes! Police officers are struggling with the question of how to effectively “serve and protect” the public in this new century, while cooperating with one another as members of the police agency, given the clash of core values and expectations occurring among “Baby Boomers”, “Generation X”, and “Generation “Y”. Yet, these law enforcement officers must work effectively side by side if this very difficult job is to be accomplished.

The next couple issues of Police Interview will be dedicated to promoting a better understanding of generational differences and expectations among law enforcement co-workers. When we are knowledgeable about and respectful of these differences, chances are that more cooperative, collaborative, and caring relationships can be achieved. Each of the next several issues will focus specifically on one of the above-mentioned generational cohorts. Each newsletter will describe the core values, strengths, and weaknesses that each generation brings to the work place. And, specific suggestions will be offered for improving cross-generational relationship-building and collaboration.


Understanding Basic Generational Differences

The following information is quoted directly from a series of tables from “Generational Cliff-Notes®” published by Performance Research Associates, Inc. in 2001.

“Baby Boomers” (born 1943 to 1960, ages 44 to 61 years)

Core ValuesAssetsLiabilities
OptimismService orientedNot naturally “budget minded
Team orientationDrivenUncomfortable with conflict
Personal gratificationWilling to go "extra mile"Reluctant to go against peers
Health and wellnessWant to pleaseMay put process ahead of result
Good at relationshipsPersonal growthOverly sensitive to feedback

Generation Xers (born 1960 to 1980, ages 24 to 44 years)

Core ValuesAssetsLiabilities
Thinking globallyTechnoliteratePoor people skills
TechnoliteracyUnintimidated by authorityCynical

Generation Next, or“Y” (born since 1980, ages 24 years and younger)

Core ValuesAssetsLiabilities
OptimismCollective ActionNeed for supervision/structure
Civic dutyOptimismInexperience handling difficult people
AchievementHeroic spirit
SociabilityMultitasking capabilities
MoralityTechnological savvy
Street smarts


"Boomers” as Police Chiefs and Upper Management

In a February 2003 article, Inspector Gord Schumacher of the Winnipeg Police Service states:

“Baby Boomers are now in charge with generation X making up the majority of the police service com- plement. Do we still have individuals like Sgt. Webb and Officer Smith [ the older reader will recall the TV show “Dragnet”] who value duty before pleasure, respect for authority and adherence to rules? Maybe, but for the most part the X er's have a different agenda, one that seemingly places them before the organization. Commitment and loyalty, though still acknowledged, are defined differently to in clude terms like: balance, informality and self-reliance.”

“While at first glance, police leaders might balk at what they see as the new wave police officer, acknowledging the wave will be easier and more productive than fighting it. How many times have we heard: 'police officers aren't what they used to be?' while that may be true in a historical sense, what they are, isn't inconsistent with good police work. Values and ethics may be slightly different but the enthusiasm to do the right thing remains. Management of this ubiquitous group will be the single most important aspect in the development of an effective, efficient and stable workforce.”

(Qualities of Police Leadership: A Snapshot on Leading Generation X, p. 1; the reader is encouraged to read Inspector Schumacher's complete article at http://www.neiassociates.org/mynamesfriday.htm)

Given that the majority of senior police department managers (“boomers” in that age 44 to 61 range) are extremely hard-working, driven, relationship-oriented, good team players, and rather traditional in their values, it is easy to appreciate why they fail to readily understand or accept the ways that younger officers might approach work life. Inspector Schumacher insists that “motivation is the key ingredient” in learning to lead and manage the younger officer more effectively. He believes that good morale, self-worth, and a solid sense of accomplish can be developed if police managers understand that “Generation X police officers need to feel that their views are seriously considered and that they as individuals mean something to the organization.” (p.2)


Perspectives & Attitudes That Better Equip “Boomer” Supervisors To Manage and Lead Younger Officers

  • Some departmental traditions and ancient policies may need to go!
  • Younger officers with different agendas can still be committed, loyal, and enthusiastic about doing good police work.
  • Good police officers do not need to be workaholics.
  • Open, direct, informal, straight-to-the-point communication from junior officers is probably not intended to be disrespectful to you.
  • Gen X officers are somewhat distrustful of authority figures in general. Leaders and institutions have been letting them down all their lives. Don't take this personally, and don't try too hard to convince them to trust you. Let your actions speak for you.
  • Realize that Gen Xers are task-oriented and very practical. They often want to move quickly and to work independently.


Messages That Motivate “Gen Xers” (ages 24-44) (quoted directly from Generations At Work, p12)

“Do it your way and enjoy.”

“We've got the newest hardware and software.”

“There aren't a lot of rules here.”

“We're not very corporate.”


Specific Suggestions for Recruiting, Motivating, Empowering, & Retaining The “Generation X” Police Officer (ages 24-44)

1. Provide lots of ways for officers to participate and to make contributions to the Police Department. They want work that is personally meaningful.

2. Police leaders must be honest, transparent, and willing to clearly explain their ideas and decisions.

3. Share the operational decision making where possible. Invite officers' input and demonstrate that you value the input.

4. Keep officers well-informed regarding organizational issues. Always be truthful and open. Disguising or minimizing major concerns will be experienced as disrespectful. A painful truth explained is better than being kept in the dark.

5. Avoid absolute management behind closed doors.

6. Tell the officers what you want done, then get out of the way-when possible. Gen Xers appreciate being able to problem solve independently and creatively.

7. Allow officers to question and challenge the old ways of doing things. They often perceive situations with a fresh perspective and want to make contributions.

8. Try to be responsive to the officer's concerns about work/home balance, family life issues, time off, and flex time initiatives where possible.

9. Provide a stable shift pattern for employees. Rotating shifts are disruptive and interfere dramatically in planning personal and family time.

10. Utilize an officer's education and specialized training. Many supervisors are unaware of their direct reports' special skills and know-how. Morale improves when people are encouraged to pursue addition training that will be employed by the department.

11. Relax out-dated residency requirements for employees.

12. Model good people skills for the Gen X officer. Many are lacking here.

13. Celebrate the officer's interest in new technology applications. These folks will help bring the department into the 21st century and teach the Boomers a thing or two in the process.


Messages That Motivate “Generation Next” (up to age 24) (quoted directly from Generations At Work, p.13)

“You'll be working with other bright, creative people.”

“Your boss is in his (or her) sixties

“You and your co-workers can help turn this company around.”

“You can be a hero here.”


Specific Suggestions for Recruiting, Motivating, Empowering, & Retaining the “Generation Y” Police Officer (up to age 24)

1. Provide lots of supervision and structure. They generally need lots of details and “how-to-work” training.

2. Assign mentors with whom a trusting and helpful relationship can develop.

3. Sell the officer on the department's strengths and opportunities for advancement.

4. Support their optimism and sense of civic duty, as they look for ways to make major-even heroic contributions to the community. They enjoy public recognition.

5. Listen a lot to the “Gen Nexers.” They expect attention and some coddling.

6. Allow for teamwork and collaboration. They've been educated that way.


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