8 ways to engage the millennials in your ranks

Supervisors, trainers and experienced officers can use generational traits to motivate and drive innovation

Article updated on May 23, 2018

Every generation takes heat from their elders. Usually it’s with some good reason: novices do lack skills, insight and knowledge that can only come from experience, and bring a lot of unsupported idealism to the table. 

Equally true is that each generation manages comes into its own and flourishes without causing the extinction of all humanity and goodness in the world. Odds are strong that the millennial generation will, too. 

We should take advantage of the ability of millennials to “multitask” and move easily between “real” and cyber worlds.
We should take advantage of the ability of millennials to “multitask” and move easily between “real” and cyber worlds. (Photo/Pixabay)

Rather than viewing their differences as weaknesses to be overcome, why not see them as opportunities for growth – in them, us and the profession? The key is recognizing how supervisors, trainers and experienced officers can use the unique generational traits millennials possess to motivate and drive innovation. Here are eight ways police leadership can engage millennials:

1. Applaud and nurture their technological expertise.

We should take advantage of their ability to “multitask” and move easily between “real” and cyber worlds. Like everything else, crime has exploded online and it’s going to take adaptable, computer-savvy cops to combat it. 

2. Ask them to teach us.

Radical? Maybe, but think about it…our newest cops are traditionally put in “watch, listen and learn” mode, labeled “rookies,” “newbies” (or “newbs”), “FNGs” or some other separating-from-the-real-cops label for a period of time, and looked upon as having little to offer seasoned officers. 

That really doesn’t work very well with this generation, and many will simply walk if they sense being degraded or marginalized. Tap into what they know – be it technology, cultural diversity, skills they bring from past jobs or education, or anthropological information about their own generation (young adults are who we also deal with and arrest most, remember). Give them chances to contribute early.

3. Give sound feedback when it’s asked for.

If they’re asking, assume it’s wanted and needed. If they’re uncertain, help them build confidence. Look for opportunities to mentor or, if you are a training officer or supervisor, connect them to mentors. Part of mentorship is teaching them to generalize skills, accept responsibility and act with confidence so to eventually leave the mentor/student relationship behind. In the meantime, understand they are euphemistically called Generation “WHY” for a reason – answer their questions, explain why things are done the way they are and help them see the bigger picture.

4. See their desire for work-life balance as a benefit not a liability.

Consider inviting their family and friends into the police “family.” When they succeed in finding the right work-life balance, perhaps they’ll become more fully engaged in the job without the burnout and ennui that so many older generations of cops slide into.

5. Give them real responsibility.

Recognize this is a generation used to being kept busy, with a high capacity for activity. They can become bored quickly and, if that happens, may disengage or leave.

6. Consider their objections to the status quo.

If they challenge convention, question authority, or suggest something outside-the-box, at least listen. We spend enough time bitching about it ourselves, while rarely pushing back (except with classic cop passive-aggressiveness), so maybe we should learn to consider and even embrace their skepticism or belief that there may be a better way.

7. Provide opportunities for them to work collaboratively.

This is how many have learned and functioned so far, and most are comfortable working with others, even (maybe especially) in across age and generational boundaries. This also increases the contact with potential mentors.

8. Teach them that the days of easy praise and quick reward are over.

Be clear that high performance is expected and feedback is more likely to be about what they’ve screwed up than what they’ve done right, and there are hierarchies to be respected. They can take it, and many of this generation are quite aware they have a lot to learn.

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