7 things police leaders need to know about Millennials

Almost every generation of young people has engendered suspicion, and even derision, among their elders, and the Millennials are certainly getting their share


Can you name the person credited with the following quote? Can you give a ballpark guess as to when it was said? 

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

Millennials are coming to a police department near you. Actually, chances are they are coming to your department in droves, and it’s long past time we all just get used to it. In fact, maybe it’s time we actually learn to embrace and appreciate them and all they can bring to the table, take responsibility for successfully bringing them into the fold, and even assume a little bit of humility in the face of what they can even teach us? It’s worth more than a passing glance.

Baby Boomers, Make Way
The Millennial generation has somehow managed to cause quite a stir among their elders and the workplace by simply being themselves.

Widely considered coddled, entitled, impatient, unrealistic, disrespectful, attention-seeking, and starved for affirmation, as well as any number of other demeaning epithets conjured by the Baby Boomers and Generation X-ers forced to make room in the workplace for this latest generation of employee, these Millennials are a particularly befuddling group. 

Technologically savvy, Millennials are impatient with — if not outright dismissive of — prevailing conventions and hierarchy, and seemingly blind to the traditional social contracts that dictate respect and power structures between the generations in social and work settings. 

If their generational attributes are causing angst in the private sector, where innovative creativity and “outside the box” ways are celebrated —how much more consternation will they cause in law enforcement where,tradition is revered and change comes slowly?

7 Insights into Millennials
Loosely defined as those born between the early 80s and the early 2000s, Millennials are generally characterized as:

1. Highly oriented toward technology and confident in their ability to find and use information they need and want, but often eschewing knowledge they don’t see as immediately important or serving their needs because, well, if they do need to know something it’s just a Google search away.
2. Needing constant feedback and reward/redirection. Despite their confidence with tech, many are needy and uncertain when making decisions, applying theory to real problems, or when uncertain of the approval of their bosses, coworkers, and peers.
3. Restless and “job hoppers.” The ideas of company loyalty, settling into a career for the long haul, or putting up with an unsatisfying work environment for too long are foreign to many Gen Ys. This is particularly concerning to law enforcement, a path where, for older officers, the decades-long stability and benefits was a resounding positive that made up for the career’s many frustrations.
4. Overly connected to their parents. Stories of young adults bringing parents to job interviews, having them intervene on their behalf with teachers and supervisors, and expecting their involvement in what should be autonomous adult decisions are legion, and with good reason. These are the children of Helicopter Parents, and to many of them, continued parental hovering is perfectly normal.
5. Self-promotional and “cocky” — some would say narcissistic — with littlereason. Theirs is the generation where everyone had a social media page, life is lived as much as in cyberspace as on terra firma, and those who fail to sell themselves at work, in relationships, and via their profile are doomed to obscurity. Reality TV has always existed in their world and the thought of living life more or less publicly is normalized.
6. The “Trophy Generation” who receives praise and reward just for showing up. In the interest of building self-esteem and confidence, many of their parents established unrealistic expectations of praise and approval that will never really be satisfied again.
7. Often seemingly unwilling to “pay their dues” and expecting high reward, promotion, and responsibility in short order.

When we were conducting training in police morale for supervisors we learned the quickest way to unleash a torrent of frustration from police supervisors, administrators, and experienced officers was to broach the subject of “the new breed of cop.” 

Young officers were criticized for: 

Not adapting to the police culture/ full engaging in department culture
Preferring outside friends and family to hanging out with fellow cops after shift
Treating policing more as a job and less as a calling
Being reticent to sacrifice personal desires for overtime
Being reluctant to taking on greater responsibility and/or applying for specialty assignments

That this newest generation of cops more than any other is likely to have completed higher education before entering law enforcement or hold certain viewpoints vastly different from those of their bosses and older colleagues — even with regard to generally traditional views about issues related to policing — sometimes fuels animosity.

But is all the criticism fair? Do the stereotypes ring true for their whole cohort? And what might these kids bring to the game that benefits and improves law enforcement? 

Even Socrates Fretted About the Next Generation
It’s important to remember generational clashes and the resulting angst over the perceived faults, incompetence, and ignorance of emerging adults are nothing new. 

The quote we opened with sounds contemporaneous to today’s adolescents and young adults, but its author has been dead for more than 2,400 years — even Socrates fretted about Greece’s future in the hands of its ne’er-do-well youth. 

Almost every generation of young people has engendered suspicion — and even derision — among their elders, and the Millennials are certainly getting their share. Maybe it’s time we embrace them and their unique ways instead, and be open to all they might offer. With our help, they might best us all. 

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