We have the privilege of traveling to different parts of the country and to present our training Police Morale for Supervisors: It IS Your Problem! While it seems low morale is not uncommon anywhere, based on many conversations and correspondence, different regions do seem to have some specific and unique concerns. Nonetheless, we have found far more similarities among agencies in different places than differences.
First, and maybe foremost among supervisors, has been frustration with the newest generation of officers. When this topic is brought up we hear frustration verging on anger from the Gen-X and Baby Boomer bosses about their difficulties to responding to this new group of adults.
Second, we are hearing a theme of hopelessness about how to respond in this climate of more violent crime, increased officer deaths in 2010, a 33% increase in batteries against officers, and increasingly limited resources to meet the apparently increasing threats. These frustrations include supervisors facing reduced staffing, resources, and training while being expected to demand their troops provide the same level of service.
Another factor reducing morale is the sense of helplessness felt juggling tradition - the way things have always been done - with knowing changes are needed in a world that is changing around them. What this seems to be adding up to is a general culture of anger and resentment in the workplace which is going to create low morale. It is an old problem, but new solutions are needed in the face of challenges current practitioners of law enforcement have probably never faced before. A lot of the supervisors we talk to are frustrated; they know morale is down, they know they are being asked to do more and better with less, they know their officers are at greater risk of assault while feeling scrutinized for any perceived misstep, and they feel tremendous responsibility for the well-being of those under them. The pressure can be overwhelming, especially when they are being told that the morale of those they lead IS their problem!
In order to avoid being overwhelmed - and increase the likelihood of successfully turning around morale from bad to good in their own world - we give them the following challenges.
Think Micro instead of Macro
The first challenge we give participants is to take a micro, instead of a macro, approach to combating low morale. Most officers' answer to low morale is to begin naming all the ways the agency or administration needs to change. Every one of us who is not a chief or division commander has probably engaged, at one time or another, in the popular game of If only I was in charge around here! Well, some or all of those things we love to name that just need to change may be true but, unless you are top brass, forcing that change is probably not within your control or reach. When individuals focus on what they have no control over it only points blame, puts them in a victim role, and leads them to feel helpless, angry and resentful.
A proactive response is one that empowers an individual to take charge of how they choose to behave, think, and feel. As LEOs we see this routinely with domestic violence victims. They will tell you everything that is wrong in their relationship, demand something be done to make it better, but rarely take the initiative to make any changes that empower themselves or change their destiny. Again, the first challenge we ask of our participants is to focus on what they have the power to directly change now.
What do you control? What changes can you make to improve your own morale and that of your direct reports? Rather than obsess over those things you have no power over, focus first on the small world you do sit on top of, and determine where you do have power.