Entry Level Openings: Recruiting and Retaining Gen-X Officers

By Mineard, Troy | Law & Order, July 2003 | Go to article overview
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Entry Level Openings: Recruiting and Retaining Gen-X Officers

Mineard, Troy, Law & Order

One of the biggest problems facing law enforcement agencies in the past few years has been the decline of suitable candidates applying for entry level positions. Many departments across the country have experienced deep declines in the overall number of applicants applying for testing or hiring. This is in sharp contrast to the numbers of people that applied even 10 years ago.

There has been a noticeable shift in the work ethic of today's new employee. For employees who were born in the baby boom, the work ethic instilled in them was the one that most police administrators now are familiar with: a sense of duty, commitment, obedience, and the idea that any position accepted would be for the long term.

Employees of most private businesses would routinely stay on the job for 20, 30 or 40 years. They attended work, did not question their employers, and felt that the employer would provide benefits for retirement. Sadly to say, in many private entities, the benefits that workers counted on have disappeared.

Today's generation of officers began to develop their life and work ethic in the 1960s and 1970s. This period of time showed a tremendous change in how people deal with authority, view their role in society, and see the status of work in their lives. People began to question not only authority figures, but also employers. The new law enforcement applicants were raised with this new sense of self and the role of authority.

Employees today value time off, are willing to relocate, want to actively participate in their work role, and want work to be something that compliments their life.

Due to the shift in the work ethic of the Gen X employee, private business has responded in different ways. The use of the team concept in management, flex time, day care benefits and allowance of input by the individual employee have all been used successfully to adjust to the new work ethic. Most law enforcement organizations do not lend themselves well to these ideas. The area that is most manageable to adjust to the Gen X employee is the way that employee input and management are designed.

For the most part, law enforcement agencies are modeled on a paramilitary, rigid structure that was designed in the 1940s and 1950s. While this served well with the previous work ethic, this rigidity is the cause of friction with Gen X employees. Employees today question work issues, work conditions and management techniques. They will skip over the chain of command, question openly why certain things are done, and want to actively participate in decisions that years ago were made only by management.

Since not all agencies have reacted well to this questioning of their defined role, employees relocate to other agencies or leave law enforcement entirely. This forces agencies into the constant and expensive process of hiring, training and trying to retain employees. Still, most agencies never take the time to find out even why one employee leaves the agency.

Shift Work

Shifts are inescapable in police work. The way in which shifts are handled is problematic for Gen X employees. There are still agencies out there that do not provide a stable shift pattern for employees. The jumping of shifts in a rotation disrupts the employee's life. In addition, it diminishes the effectiveness of the employee due to sleep and life patterns. Stable shifts allow the Gen X employee to plan his time to include work, rather than plan work to include his personal life.

Participation in Decisions

The Gen X employee wants to have an active role in his working environment.

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Entry Level Openings: Recruiting and Retaining Gen-X Officers


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