As I rounded the corner of a hallway that leads to my office, I heard the words that I have grown to hate: "You know this younger generation just expects to have everything handed to them." Those words make my blood boil. We will get to my retort at the end of this article.
Here are a few facts. The Gen Y crowd was born between 1977 and '95. There are around 78.9 million of us in the United States alone, according to an estimate by the Center for Generational Kinetics. That makes us the fastest-growing demographic in the marketplace and the workplace. So, despite the bemoaning baby boomers, we are entering the workforce in droves and there is nothing that can be done about it. We are here to stay. With that in mind, how can Gen Y and baby boomers co-exist in a field that is dominated by type-A personalities?
It's simple. The baby boomers have to stop fighting us, and we have to stop discounting the experience of the boomers. Law enforcement is a very exciting world to be working in right now. Technology is catching up with the demands of the profession, and the Gen Yers are very adept at using that technology. With boomers at the helm of most law enforcement agencies, the technology isn't being used to its full potential.
Most boomers are scared of technology. They have no idea how it works and are leery of implementing unfamiliar pieces of tech in their organizations. Millennials are familiar with the technology but command-level leadership continuously fails to ask them how to use it.
Millennials have a reputation for being tech-savvy. That's not an accurate depiction. As Jason Dorsey, The Gen Y Guy, so eloquently states, "Gen Y is not tech-savvy; we are tech-dependent." We don't innately know how to use these emerging forms of technology. We are forced to learn it because of our dependence on it. Often, we forget that those who wore the badge before us are not comfortable with this perceived "magical understanding" of how technology works.
Boomers may never understand how using Evernote replaces their pocket notebook. Millennials will never understand what it's like to not use spell check. It doesn't make either generation wrong, it just makes us different. Boomers, if taught how to properly use technology, would stand to gain significant understanding of the benefits of those tools. Millennials could use a little practice in sitting still for an hour and handwriting a report. It is all about teaching and mentoring, from both generations.
As a sergeant, I use a simple template for the mentoring process:
- I do, you watch.
- I do, you help.
- You do, I help.
- You do, I watch.
- You do, someone else watches.
The application of this process has made my life less stressful and complicated. I use it at work and at home. I find it helpful when supervising those of the boomer generation. If boomers would take the time to teach millennials the nuances of their way of doing things, millennials would come to better appreciate the ways of boomer cops. If millennials walked boomers through this process, respecting the fact that the boomers are resistant to change, the boomers would better understand how millennials see the world.
I'm aware that it's hard for boomers to humble themselves and learn from a millennial. As long as there is a mentoring relationship, servant leadership, and two willing participants, this process can help bridge the generational gap. Boomers need to stop bellyaching about the ADHD tendencies of millennials, and millennials have to stop discounting the treasure chest of knowledge stored in the minds of the boomers. If we just face the fact that we must work together to make the organization more successful, we can have a symbiotic relationship that takes the department to new heights.
Now to finish my story...
As I walked past the room of the boomers who were taking a shot at me, I stopped dead in my tracks. I stuck my head in the room and told him, "Yeah, we can be like that. But isn't it your generation who raised us?" I received no answer to my question, at least not an audible one.
Editor's note: Listen to Brian Cain's Millennial Cop podcast here.
Workplace Communication: Closing the Generation Gap