How Do We Get Young Officers to Commit to the Job Like We Do?

For the first time in history, there are four generations in the work place. Each with very different views of work, discipline, motivation, reward and communication. Want to know how to motivate Gen X and Gen Y recruits and officers? Read on.


"When I was your age" vs. "They just don't get it"

Across the nation Veteran (62 and older) and Baby Boomer (42 to 61 years) law enforcement leaders are sounding a refrain about Generation X (28 to 41) and Y (27 and younger) recruits and officers:

  • "They're not committed to the work."
  • "It's just a job to them."
  • "They feel entitled."
  • "They're not willing to pay their dues."

Ask the younger officers to describe their elders and you'll hear:

  • "Rigid."
  • "Inflexible."
  • "Married to the job."
  • "They don't get it."

Who do the Vets and Boomers sound like? Their parents! History isn't the only thing that repeats itself. So do generations. There have always been brash 20-somethings and there have always been elders to say, "When I was your age..." But there hasn't always been four generations sharing the same workplace. It's happening for the first time in history. And it's spurred a huge amount of research.

Understanding our own generational views and how they were shaped and the different values of other generations can be helpful in bridging the generational gap. Greg Hammill's informative online article, Mixing and Matching Four Generations of Employees, is summarily instructive. Mr. Hammill also reminds us that every generation thinks their way of seeing and doing things is the only right way--which isn't true--in personal or work life.

So let's look at a different way, because when the grumbling dust settles, Veteran and Baby Boomer law enforcement leaders sincerely want to know how to fully engage young recruits and officers in what, to the elders, is a calling, not just a career. Law enforcement leaders aren't the only ones facing this challenge. "Employee engagement" is a hot topic in private enterprise. Why? Because there's clear and mounting evidence that employee engagement correlates to individual, group and organizational performance in the areas of productivity, retention, turnover, customer service and loyalty. [Patricia Soldati, Employee engagement: What exactly is it?] And, employee disengagement is a national epidemic. [Building a Highly Engaged Workforce, Gallup Management Journal.]

What is a fully engaged officer?

A fully engaged officer:

  • Is attracted to and inspired by the work ("I want to do this").
  • Is committed ("I am dedicated to the success of what I'm doing").
  • Is interested ("I love what I'm doing").
  • Cares about the future of the department, the profession and the community.
  • Is eager to go beyond duty's call to ensure the department succeeds in its vision.

[Siejts and Crim, What engages employees the most or, The Ten C's of employee engagement, Ivey Business Journal Online.]

Wouldn't we all like recruits and officers like that? Recent research and practice is showing us how to get them.

Money Can't Buy You Love

Corporate America has known for nearly half a century that money doesn't fully engage people--doesn't emotionally connect them to their work so they perform beyond duty's call. In 1959, in his influential book, The Motivation to Work, Frederick Herzberg concluded that money can be a de-motivator if people believe they're not fairly compensated. But once people feel they're compensated fairly, more money doesn't inspire commitment, interest and exceptional effort.

Leaders need to pay attention to this. More recent studies show there's a significant gap between what leaders think motivate employees and what the workers know inspire them. In one such study, workers were asked to identify their top motivators while their managers were asked to predict what they would say. Managers predicted:

  1. Wages
  2. Working conditions
  3. Fair discipline

In contrast, the frontline employees said:

  1. Full appreciation for work done
  2. Feeling that they were in on things
  3. Sympathetic help with personnel problems

Other studies show people want:

  • To take pride in their work
  • Belong to a winning team
  • Be part of an organization they believe in
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