As their hectic lifestyle continues, more fatigue sets in. The exhausted officers may become anti-social, lose motivation, experience trouble concentrating, develop poor work habits and produce inferior work. These weary individuals begin to use more sick time because they are sick more often. A cold, which in healthy individuals lasts about a week, now lasts a month because they are rundown. Ulcers, indigestion and body aches are common. Depression may set in.
As burnout continues, officers who once stood straight and tall may slouch and lose concern for their physical appearance. Their hair and clothing may be unkempt, and their level of fitness may deteriorate.
Burnt-out officers may exhibit attitude problems. They may lose their desire to do positive deeds. They may begin to dislike talking to citizens and dread service calls. They may make snide remarks to other officers, become surly, and seldom provide input into important conversations.
Exhausted officers may also develop drug or alcohol problems. Eating disorders may arise, and problems with family and friends away from work may also unfold.Burnout prevention
The best prevention for burnout is a knowledgeable manager. Police managers who know their people, both professionally and personally, can detect subtle personality changes that signal a problem.
But knowing every officer as an individual may be an insurmountable task, especially in larger departments. The best way to overcome this reality is to rely on a team concept. A strong team overcomes "blue silence" by taking care of each other. A cohesive team has open discussions about everything from performance to family issues.
It is the manager's responsibility to educate team members about the signs and symptoms of burnout, but it is each and every team member's responsibility to do something positive when signs and symptoms point to a problem. Just as a team member provides backup when entering a dark warehouse in the middle of the night, he or she must also learn to provide backup when the everyday stress of the job begins to wear on other team members.Waging war on burnout
Once burnout sets in, the same remedies designed to prevent it will also work to fight it. Managers and officers should familiarize themselves with prevention and treatment strategies, which include:
- Keeping the body healthy. Develop good eating habits. While fast foods provide a convenient meal, managers should encourage healthy choices. Stopping at the local donut shop for a cup of coffee and a donut for breakfast, grabbing a burger through the drive-through window or eating at the quick-mart for lunch contributes to burnout and takes away from an officer's performance.
- Staying fit. Exercise not only prepares an officer for emergencies, but it is also a strong weapon against burnout. Regular workouts, both aerobic and weight training, keep the body fit. Fit officers are physically able to contribute substantially to their community.
- Watching those work hours. The old saying, "too much work makes for a dull employee," fits. Individual employees, team members, managers and executive officers need to set limits.
- Talking about it. Communication is everything. Conversations with the affected officer can do wonders. Managers must bring the issue of burnout into the open and discuss life changes, performance issues and other causes for deterioration with officers. A climate of trust must be built to allow for forthright and honest communication. And while the affected officer might resist, managers must persist.
- Varying assignments. A change in assignments, rotating shifts or the addition of temporary duties often prevents burnout. New experiences, challenges and dimensions can serve to motivate those on the verge of burnout. However, be careful when adding duties. One cause of burnout is overconsumption, so it's important to be sure temporary additional duties are just that: Temporary.
- Encouraging time off. A strong family relationship eases the burnout battle. Don't let officers accumulate excessive vacation time. Managers should encourage vacations and days off, and if necessary, assign sick leave to those hard-headed individuals who exhibit the signs of burnout but refuse to acknowledge the problem.
- Accentuating the positive. Many organizations contribute to burnout through unintentional attitudes — worry and stress also flow downhill. A little smile from the top, a thank you for a good job, and commendations for outstanding performance all contribute toward preventing burnout.
- Officers headed toward burnout can be headed off at the pass before they take this long and lonely road. But it requires a concerned manager who pays attention and takes the time to educate his entire team about burnout and how it can be prevented.