After the Webinar: Millennials and Generation Z in Law Enforcement. Q&A with Dr. Grant McDougall

Webinar presenter Dr. Grant McDougall answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Millennials and Generation Z in Law Enforcement.  Here are just a few of his responses.


Audience Question: Can you just, at a high level, juxtapose, how is Generation Z different from the Millennials? And what nuances we need to know about them as employees? 

Dr. Grant McDougall: That’s a really, really good question, and yeah. I won’t speak in too much depth. You know, we don’t have as much research on Generation Z as we do the Millennials. But what we are learning is, again, technology is a huge factor with Gen Z. They tend to communicate more with technology than any other generation previously. They tend to utilize technology very differently than any other generation previously. A lot of them in their interpersonal relationships are using technology as a conduit, more than ever before, and what we’re also finding generation Z is doing that in the workplace as well. So, for example, in law enforcement a lot of times, what you’re finding is if you ask a generation Z the individual would you rather your FTO or your supervisor. You know, talk with you face-to-face or send you a text. Guess which one they would prefer. So, they tend to be much more comfortable in a technological setting with regards to texting, and you have to bear with me because I am not Generation Z here, but face timing, texting, zooming, and so forth than they ever have before. They also tend to be skewing a little bit, they’re not as optimistic as the generation before them, the Millennials. And that may be because of growing up in a post 911 world. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the COVID-19, that the pandemic affects the Gen Z and the alpha generation, very little research done on that. I think, my impression is that is what will have a significant impact on how they interact with the world, how they see the world, the worldviews, and so forth. But I think the biggest difference, at least from my perspective, in my research with generation Z and Generation Y, has to do with technology, how they communicate, and how they interact with people.


Audience Question: Why did they start lettering generations at X? I believe it has something to do with the fact that it was the 10th generation, but I don’t remember why it was counted that way, but Grant, what do you know about that one?

Dr. Grant McDougall: I’m stumped. I was going to answer exactly the way that you answered. I believe it’s because that was the 10th generation, but again, I could be wrong about that as well. So, I don’t want to miss it, but that’s a great question, and I’m writing it down right now because I want to know myself. And I don’t. I always thought that Millennials, the reason they call them generation Why, was because they were constantly asking why. I think that was just my kids are doing that. I don’t know. And Z was just logically following Y. But truthfully, I don’t know why they call that Generation X and I thought that it was because it was considered to be the 10th generation, but now that I think about it, I’m not entirely sure. But I will certainly find that out. If you want to e-mail me, I’ll get the answer for you.

Host: Fantastic. And I think you are right. Initially, it was the 10th generation, Y immediately followed it, and then, of course, Z followed Y. What I think also happened though, is I think there was a nightly newscast it’s like Ted Koppel, or Brian Williams or one of those correct newscasters said something about Millennials. That’s how they got the name. Am I remembering that story, right?

Grant McDougall: Yep. I think it was, it was generated in media, I don’t remember the ABC CBS, but yeah, I think generated in media.


Audience Question: As a typical boomer, I find communicating with folks in the next generation to feel difficult. Is it just me? Are boomers just thought of as insensitive? Can you kind of add some details to that? 

Dr. Grant McDougall: My first statement, would be your answer is no. It is not just you. It is not just you at all. I hear that a lot from Baby Boomers and Generation X when they’re working with Millennials, but I think that you’ll find in each cross-section, you talk from generation to generation. Again, how we communicate sometimes is very different. When I’m talking with younger people, let’s say the Millennials/Generation Z folks, and maybe even generation Alpha to some extent. Sometimes I’m challenged, or it could be something as simple as vocabulary. You know, what does dope mean? For generation X that’s worked in law enforcement does mean something very different than cool, awesome, or positive. So, there’s terminology there, colloquialisms that are specific generations. I also think that when I look at it, I’ll use my family, for example, my parents and my grandparents, some of them grew up during the Great Depression. They were part of the greatest generation so forth, they experienced hardships. How they approached life, while they were very kind loving people, they were a bit more stoic and sometimes could be considered cold, aloof, stern. And the point of fact is, once you got to know them, they weren’t that way at all. But they face challenges, at least in my opinion, that, frankly, I didn’t have to face. They went through adversity that quite frankly, I never had to deal with. They’re trying to figure out how to put food on the table the next day. I don’t have that problem. So, you know, it created some callousness and stoicism in them, that I think in that generation you’ll see quite often. So, when they hear, you know, somebody from the other generation complaining about their latte is too cold, it’s just really hard to, it’s really hard to connect with that. And it challenges us, you know, to really step outside of how we communicate in the world that we know, and try to learn about these things, and what’s important. To, this day, my two kids are like an ongoing research project for me. And I spend as much time around them, and their friends, as I can kind of understand their world. Because it’s very different than mine, very, very different. So, the answer to your question, I don’t think that there’s a thing in the world wrong with you, I think it’s just the differences, and sometimes that can make us feel a little bit awkward or out of place.


Audience Question: Kind of piggybacking on that, how can immediate supervisors sell the need for the command staff to understand these generational differences in the upcoming workforce? 

Dr. Grant McDougall: You know, that may be the best question I’ve heard so far. That is a phenomenal question and that’s a challenge that I face on a regular basis when I go into an agency. I certainly in no way shape or form want to categorize all command staff as these dyed in the wool, inflexible baby boomer Generation Xers. But I run into that obstacle very frequently where the leadership doesn’t really understand the importance of becoming more flexible, of growing, of modifying leadership, and so forth. So, answer your question. One of the things I look at is the economics behind it all, I wrote an article recently for the Sheriff Deputy Magazine and was talking about what we are currently in this country, in law enforcement, the workforce crisis. In general, we have a dramatic shortage of employees. We’re talking about the largest generation segment and the biggest applicant pool out there is Millennials and Gen Z. We need to figure out, as an agency, how to attract them, and how to retain them. And if we stay set in our old ways, we’re not going to do that, we’re going to have a very, very difficult time doing that. You might pull in some of those other Millennials, but you’re going to have a really, really challenging time attracting new officers that are in the generation range. From a practical point even if the leadership doesn’t want a change, for the survival of the agency, they need to change. One of the things that I do, when I look at agencies that are tremendously understaffed, they can’t either get law enforcement officers or keep law enforcement officers. I start looking at their management styles or hiring practices. Are they targeting the individuals that are in the Millennial or Gen Z? So, from a practical standpoint, you know what you did in the past may work, and have worked really, really well. And again, I’m not a big fan of fixing what isn’t broken. But, if you’re applying those old techniques to a new generation and that is not working, and it’s showing up in things like the longevity of employment or frontline officer shortages. You got to start looking at how you can change in management styles, recruitment styles, those are the first thing I look at.

Host: Those are all really good points. If you really want to know how much you’re going to be dealing with in terms of the next generation of the workforce. Look to how those kids are taught in the school system, and in college. Because in those cases I can see, where teachers started including more group work, more projects work, more teams, that kind of thing. Those generations, Millennials and certainly, Generation Z, that’s what they know. That’s what they understand. And they understood that because their grade was riding on it, so it makes a lot of sense. So, that’s another great way to learn what’s your what to be expecting as a manager, because that’s who’s educating your workforce.


Audience Question: So, in terms of understanding Millennials and Generation Z, the “me” aspects of those two generations might be true. But isn’t there also some discussion about some of the challenges, and especially financial challenges that have impacted these generations? Societal turbulence, especially for Generation Z. There are societal forces like we talk about — like they might be reluctant to get into their careers. Is it necessary reluctance? Or is it that they’re being cautious? Or, if they can’t achieve those lifetime goals — it isn’t necessarily that they don’t want to have a family, or they don’t want to have a house. Is it because, quite frankly, they can’t afford it. They’re straddled with university debt, or they’re not being paid quite what they should be paid. Isn’t there than one way to look at how these generations are behaving? 

Dr. Grant McDougall: Well, yeah, I think there is, and I think. Again, I’m giving you kind of a broad stroke here, so it may be very different in California than it is in Indiana, than it is in Florida. In my experience, I think what draws a lot of, and I think this is a very consistent theme across the United States. I think what draws Millennials and Gen Z to law enforcement is the purpose-driven, intrinsic value need that they have very consistently. Millennials are willing to take less money, to get more meaning out of their work. But, to kind of highlight what you were saying earlier though, I think that what I’m seeing, at least in my research is that there’s a shift. So, this sort of adulting thing is starting to slide a little bit. I left home and was on my own at age 17, and that wasn’t anything that was absolutely abnormal, or crazy, it’s just what I did. What we’re seeing now is children are staying at home longer or coming back home after going off to school and so forth. They’re possibly not as financially is independent of the generations before them are, and I think that can also, you know, lead them down a different path. I really do believe that, and I have a whole presentation that I’m doing in August will speak a lot about this. But, social media, media in general, the way the public is perceiving law enforcement right now at having a significant impact on Generation Z and Generation Y is regarding their interest in law enforcement or public safety. I think having a profound impact on them. I will say this, the Millennials that I interviewed, the Gen Z that I interviewed for pre-employment evaluations. I asked them, why in the world are you going into this career at this point in time? Have you had your head in the sand? Do you not own a TV? What are you thinking? Why do you want to be a cop right now? Consistently, what they tell me is I want to make a change. I want to show people that not all cops are bad, I want to make a difference in my community. I want to walk with my peers and show them that you can enforce the law and not be racist or not be brutal. So again, it goes back to that intrinsic thing, that need to make a difference. So, I do think that the younger generation really cares a lot about that. But I also think that there are some financial restrictions as individuals you brought up, and I think that is, again, probably a factor in all of this. Unfortunately, you don’t you don’t go into law enforcement to get rich. You just don’t. But I think we know we can tap into that with this younger generation because I don’t know if getting rich is their primary objective.

Host: You’re right, and I know some innovative agencies, we did a webinar with one of them last spring about this time, who were even looking at things like student loan forgiveness to attract these groups who, as you said, want, to be part of the community, they want to make a difference. They may want to make an impact. But how do you do that and balance student loans? Well, one way is if you can, if you can absorb some of those student loans.


Click Here to Watch a Recording of Millennials and Generation Z in Law Enforcement.  



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