Supervising the Internet Generation

When I was first promoted to a supervisory position, I thought the hardest part was going to be supervising officers who were senior to me. Of course, by senior, I do not mean of higher rank, but rather those who were older and had more time on the job- those who the day before I might have been expected to turn to for advice. A decade later, I have realized I was wrong. Although being the new Sgt. facing a platoon of veteran officers included a bit of a learning curve, it is nothing compared to being a Captain supervising more and more members of the Internet Generation.

The Internet Generation, or those born after 1980, are the newest members of every work force and present a number of unique challenges for their older supervisors. Like the bosses before us, we have little choice but to accept the challenge and push forward, the same as I am sure the future supervisors of the Internet Generation will do 10 years down the road. Understanding what makes the newest members of your workforce tick can ease the transition.

What You Can Expect

Different Priorities -The newest generation of employees has a revised set of priorities, with an increased focus on enjoying their downtime and personal interests.

Different Skill Set – A common complaint is their lack of social skills. The truth is they have very advanced social skills, just not in the traditional sense. What they may lack in face to face communication experience, they more than make up for by their acceptance of those of wide, more diverse cultural circles.

Different Expectations – Earlier generations were motivated by job security, future opportunities and retirement. Those in the Internet Generation are more interested in positions which provide a challenge, immediate opportunities and are more willing to move on if a better position presents itself.

Different Role – Today’s recruit may be the new employee, but is less willing to simply accept the “new guy role.” They expect more immediate acceptance as a full-fledged member of the team and are less willing to simply accept another’s role as senior simply because that person has been employed longer.

Young OfficerWhat You Can Do

First, you need to accept that some of the behavior or character traits will not change simply because you want it to. Accept that which cannot be changed, work on that which must change and forget about that which does not need to change. For example, if a new recruit gives you 110% every shift and arrives on time every day, you should not hold it against them for wanting to leave when the shift is done. On the other hand, communication skills are vital to police work so you may need to alter your academy and FTO programs to better address any shortcomings in this area.

Second, these new recruits will be looking for opportunities to not only advance but also to challenge themselves. You can no longer simply tell them “pay your dues and put your time in.” If they do not believe there is a means to advance other than simply waiting, it is unlikely they will stick around to see how it works out.

Third, do not expect immediate undying loyalty or a willingness to ask “How High?” when you say “Jump.” Studies indicate that this generation is more willing to leave an unsatisfying position, even at the risk of monetary loss, if they do not feel their needs are being met. They also do not see questioning a trainer or person in authority as disrespectful or insubordinate but rather a natural aspect of being a “peer.” Again, this type of behavior may not always be conducive to a military based police organization, but rather than stomp on the recruit to asks “Why?” you may need to make it clear when a discussion is a debate and when it is an instruction.

Remember, the name of the game is the same as always “adapt and overcome.” When that doesn’t work, think about how much fun it will be to come back in 10 years and see what they have to say about the next generation!

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Tom Burrell

Tom enlisted in the US Marine Corps Reserves in 1987. Following service in Desert Storm, he transitioned to active duty with the US Coast Guard. In 1997 he left the USCG to pursue a position in conservation & maritime law enforcement. Tom is currently a Captain and he oversees several programs, including his agency investigation unit. He is also a training instructor in several areas including firearms, defensive tactics and first aid/CPR. In 2006 Tom received his Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice from Harrisburg Area Community College and in 2010 a Bachelor’s Degree from Penn State University.
Tom Burrell
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