Police Interview Newsletter
A Police Recruiter’s Dream – “Generation Y”

A Police Recruiter’s Dream – “Generation Y”
Volume 6, Issue 4
July-August, 2007

     From all appearances and predictions, individuals currently in the 25 year and under age bracket (Generation Y) will easily surpass the achievements of the previous generation – Generation X – in both their career achievements and civic contribution.

     This new wave of high school and college graduates also referred to as the “Millennial Generation”, now age 25 or younger, demonstrates core values and assets that are particularly attractive to law enforcement agencies.

     Gen Xer police officers, though technologically savvy, have presented some difficult challenges for police departments over the past 15 to 20 years. This generation of officers has tended to be informal, impatient, highly self-reliant, and not very interested in collective efforts. They are often distrustful of supervisors and higher-ups, preferring to work independently rather than as members of a team.

     This younger Millennial Generation, on the other hand, possesses qualities that are extremely well suited to police work. Generation Y exhibits a strong sense of morality, sociability, optimism, and civic duty. They tend to be upbeat and team-oriented, instead of independent and cynical like their Gen X predecessors.

Stand Tall Millennials – You Are the Hero Generation

     In the July-August 2007 Harvard Business Review, Neil Howe and William Strauss wrote an excellent article (“The Next 20 Years: How Customer and Workforce Attitudes Will Evolve”) that describes and projects how the various generational cohorts will navigate young adulthood, their careers, and mid-life decisions. For the purpose of this newsletter, the information relating to Generation Y is of greatest interest.

     Howe and Strauss state, “Millennials will prove false the assumption (prompted by the experience of Boomers and Xers) that each generation of young adults is more alienated and risk prone than the one before. Many Millennials will want to correct for the impracticality of Boomers and the indiscipline of Gen Xers” (p.50). This younger generation is interested in community building and a “collegial center of gravity.” These police applicants take rules, standards, and personal responsibility very seriously. They appreciate the older, wiser supervisors and are attracted to the chain-of-command structures in law enforcement agencies.

     Generation Y police applicants have generally enjoyed close, nurturing relationships with their parents and extended families. They tend to be more confident, trusting, and teachable in the workplace – clearly more respectful of authority figures, and more receptive to guidance from those in charge. When given clear goals and allowed to work in groups, Millennial-age officers will perform amazingly well. They may be a bit dependent in their need for constant feedback from supervisors, but they are likely to continue meeting and beating workplace expectations. Generation Y will be known for their “heroic spirit”, team orientation, and upbeat attitude. In these ways the Millennials are quite similar to WWII Veterans – who lived some four generations ago.

     So, if you’re a young adult (age 25 years, or younger) with an interest in law enforcement work - Go for it! Chances are that your family upbringing, core values, personality traits, and orientation towards authority make you especially well suited for a police career in the 21st century.

A Word To Police Recruiters

  1. The Good News - Howe and Strauss observe that record numbers of Millennials are “gravitating toward large institutions and government agencies, seeking teamwork” type positions. In addition to having more conventional life goals and seeking close relationships with their parents, they are attracted to a more ordered work environment with clearer lines of authority. Unlike Gen Xers who change jobs frequently and often leave at the first sign of problems, Generation Y employees are more inclined to stay put and wait until someone in charge solves the problem. As police officers, they will be very loyal, patriotic, and demonstrate a high regard for rules and regulations.

         So, the good news appears to be that this Millennial generation is very well suited to police work. Successfully attracting and recruiting these individuals to the law enforcement arena is the big challenge.

  2. Potential Difficulties – Police recruiters know better than any of us how very challenging it has been in recent years to recruit qualified applicants to the law enforcement field. So many factors are involved: starting pay, benefits, work hours, flexibility of schedule, concerns about work/life balance, agency reputation and moral, advancement possibilities, etc. Recruitment has become a highly competitive, even aggressive, process among police agencies.

         The Harvard Business Review article (July-August 2007) points out that Millennial generation job seekers are facing tough economic challenges as they enter the workplace. Specifically, this generation is “saddled with far larger student loans (in real dollars) than any earlier generation. Housing costs have skyrocketed in many urban areas, while entry-level pay in most occupations remains unchanged” (p.50).

         In addition, Howe and Strauss predict that there will be an increasing separation between families who can afford to help (financially) the new worker as she or he begins a career, and those families who cannot. In effect, without this parental financial support, many Millennials will find it difficult or impossible to begin careers in public service jobs like teaching, fire fighting, or law enforcement. It will simply be unaffordable for some otherwise excellent applicants

  3. Suggestions for Empowering & Retaining Generation Y Police Officers

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

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

    C. Sell the officer on the department’s strengths and opportunities for advancement.

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

    E. Listen a lot to the Millennials. They expect attention and some coddling.

    F. Allow for teamwork and collaboration. They’ve been educated that way.

    A Final Thought

         “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” (Ron Zemke, Generations At Work, 2001, p.1).

         For more discussion about generational values, assets, and liabilities in the work place, see Volume 3, Issue 4 of Police Interview Newsletter entitled, “Baby Boomers Rule.”

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