Survival of the fittest

For anyone who missed it, there was an interesting Twitter Q&A on the 17th February organised by @WeCops and Andy Rhodes (@DCCLancs), Lancashire Constabulary DCC and National Lead for wellbeing and engagement. Three questions were posed:

  • Is it police work or other issues that tip us over in terms of stress / anxiety?
  • If we agree great leaders prioritise wellbeing what stops many from doing so?
  • When we recruit people how do we assess their readiness for policing at a personal resilience level?

The second question in particular generated some debate. The overall view was that despite senior police leaders’ commitment to a service which values its staff and places importance on welfare, there is still quite a harsh culture within the ranks, which can be summed up as “shape up or ship out”. Survival of the fittest. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. I’m your boss, I can stand the pressure – why can’t you? Lunch (or at least a meal break) is for wimps – and so on. As with any organisational culture, this permeates through the whole workforce, but it is largely formed by the values of its leaders.

In our last blog, we touched on the police promotion process and its tendency to reinforce what could be described as “corporate thinking”. The process also tends to favour those who are good at self-promotion – people who aren’t afraid to use “I” rather than “we”, to “big themselves up” and to come across as charming and persuasive in that all-important 40 minutes. What the promotion system isn’t as good at identifying is a genuine concern for the welfare of staff. It’s not surprising, when it’s arguably easier to score points by robustly imposing performance management measures on a struggling officer than it is to try to understand, empathise with and remedy the underlying reasons behind attendance and performance issues. In the current climate of austerity and expectation from government to achieve more with less, there is additional pressure on police managers to take a hard line on performance.

In looking at issues around stress, sickness, performance and resilience, perhaps there needs to be a fundamental change of culture within the police service – a real move towards transformational leadership, away from the transactional model that tends to dominate front-line management. We need leaders at all levels who genuinely care about the welfare of their staff. We need a culture that doesn’t stigmatise stress, depression, mental illness or just “being different”. And in order to be a truly inclusive organisation, we need to recognise and encourage these values in future leaders.