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Stop the generation war

It can be tempting to stigmatize a previous or subsequent generation. It is often a reaction to fear of the unknown. Embracing a way of thinking or behaving in a way that is foreign to us can be daunting, as we are inclined to think and act according to what we know or believe to be true.

March 20, 2019  By Isabelle Sauve


In large, law enforcement personnel tend to be resistant to change. Considering different views and approaches can be a challenge, but it is necessary and crucial to organizational development and advancement.

It can undoubtedly be difficult to relate to or understand a generation other than your own. In a law enforcement setting, it can be particularly challenging to work alongside younger (or older!) cohorts who come from a dissimilar background and have a different view on work and life.

Arguably no generation has received more criticism, been more studied, or so repeatedly written about than the generation born between 1981-2000. Sociologists have identified them as “millennials” or Generation Y. They have been shaped by major events, such as the explosion of technology, multiculturalism, 9/11 and social media, and the parents of this generation have in large been described as overprotective and/or coddling.

Millennials have also been exposed to distinct economic, social, political and environmental circumstances compared to what the baby boomers (1946-1964) or generation Xer’s (1965-1980) were exposed to. Consequently, they have a different view of the world. They come equipped with their own approaches, views, values, skills and knowledge to offer.

Millennials have been portrayed as having an unprecedented sense of entitlement, a need for too much flexibility and an unwillingness to “pay their dues.” In a para-military structured organization with great emphasis on rank, this can be viewed as troublesome to some.

However, millennials are hardworking individuals who want to make a difference and they believe they can make a difference. Their approach to work and life is different and should not be perceived as disruptive.

Bridging generational gaps requires an understanding of the cultural backbone and the formative background of each cohort. Focusing on the positives, as well as understanding what “drives” cohorts, is an important step towards relationship building, mutual respect for differences, healthier working alliances and ultimately a more productive work environment.

While each person has unique values, interests, talents and personalities, generation cohorts share collective foundational experiences. They were influenced by the same social, political and environmental atmosphere. Millennials as a generation are described as being creative, independent, confident, family and community focused, as well as tech savvy. It is also well known that many of them place social media at the centre of their lives. They cherish time off and value interests outside of their professional occupations. They work hard when properly engaged, even if they are not necessarily committed to one lifelong career. They greatly value authority and crave feedback. In the workplace, they are more inclined to communicate through the use of technology than to seek face-to-face interaction.

Channeling these attributes and focusing on the existing common ground, rather than on differences, is a real challenge for all management; nonetheless, doing so can promote employee motivation and enhanced job performance.

Wellness and employment satisfaction can also be improved. Mentorship programs can help build mutual trust, respect and understanding. They can also encourage millennials to make use of their distinctive talents and skills. The value of working collaboratively on tasks or projects can elicit additional commonalities or points of interest. Team building initiatives can bring colleagues together. Supporting and encouraging is key to closing generational gaps.

From a managerial point of view, some cross-generational challenges include varying ways of resolving issues, communication styles, work/life balance considerations and feedback expectations. Initiatives permitting creativity and personal development while respecting structure, procedures and policies should be encouraged. Stereotyping cannot be an excuse to abandon one’s duty as manager. Managers must be mindful of generational intricacies and provide adequate guidance.

One of the best ways to shrink the generational divides is to be flexible with the traditional rules and for each cohort to take steps towards one another. Diversity in the workplace is essential and one of its utmost strengths. An organization’s success is the sum of its various unique parts.

Isabelle Sauve is a 12-year veteran with the OPP, currently with the Lanark County Detachment. She has a MA in psychology and is a PhD candidate. She is also an ultramarathon/ endurance athlete and the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series winner as well as a Guinness World record holder. She can be contacted at:

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