Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Sitting in a command staff meeting for the police department where I was a civilian employee, I listened as the older generation discussed the problems with today’s youth. They complained that they no longer want to find a position where they can grow and make a career, favoring instead a steppingstone approach.
I, myself, am a boomer. Yes, a bona fide baby boomer, albeit on the very tale end of that generation. But I also have watched the myriad of generations that followed closely. Yes, I’m a workaholic (which is why I’m struggling so much with this semi-retirement I find myself in today). That was the way of the boomer generation. You found a job, and a company, and you dedicated your life to it. This was a result of the way large corporations treated our parents, who know they would get retirement and health benefits if they spent their career with the company. Of course, that changed, and these large corporations basically broke their promises and started cutting health benefits and simply reneging on their promises for retirement benefits.
There is no dedication for one’s employer any longer because employers have no dedication to their employees. It takes awhile for traditions to change, though, so like our fathers before us, people of my generation (and the one that followed) looked for a career to settle into for the long haul. At the police department, young people had outgrown that tradition. Instead, they saw the department as a great feature for their resume, and figured on staying there for, maybe, five years or so before moving on. It was just what they did.
But more than that, they were also looking out for themselves. When I work, I usually like to accumulate as much vacation time as possible, working straight and taking no breaks. The theory, I would tell myself, is that if I want to take an extended vacation, say, for example, to Europe for a month, I would have the vacation time to do so. But being of the generation that I am, I never went to Europe. I’d start taking vacation days because I was forced to use them. I enjoyed taking Wednesday’s off to burn off these days. Most people want extended weekends, but I preferred the mid-week break so it felt like two short weeks, one two-day and one three.
But the current generation will actually take their vacation time. They care about time with their families and for themselves, as well they should. It can go too far, as some also tend to use sick days for vacation. Honestly, I do believe that sick days should be able to be used as “mental health” days, but most employers don’t see this as legitimate. The problem, of course, is what happens when they are actually sick but have no sick days remaining. I’ve actually had somebody once explain to me that that’s a good thing, because why would they want to take days off if they’re not feeling well?
There’s really only one problem. Management, like those in the command staff (well, most) cannot understand, and will not accommodate the new paradigm. We had one captain who had suggested that we have the personnel and space to put a mini daycare in the department to make it easier for single mother employees to take care of their children, but he stood alone. His thinking was what the rest of the command staff was missing. He recognized that the newer generation were more concerned with their families and quality family time than the company for whom they worked. A simple perk like a daycare would have made employees think twice before taking a new job, and maybe that five years would have turned into, what? Seven? Eight? Ten?
Not that my approach was gone. When I was let go at the police department, and as the dean at the following position, I received a hefty bonus check as part of the severance for six weeks (both times) of unused vacation days. But at the same time, I lost out on trips and experiences, although I’m trying to make up for that now. I can tell you, though, that if I had a family, things would have been very different. Having a spouse and children does have a grounding effect, one that reminds us to spend vacation days, and restrict our ridiculous spending habits, a grounding that I truly wish I had. Either way, though, until managers recognize the needs of their younger employees, there will always be friction.