Be Safe & Have Fun!!

Sept. 30, 2008
The best defense against low morale and burnout is taking steps to keep the job and your life fun.

Be safe and have fun is how every conversation ends when I am speaking to Mike when he is on the job, about to go to the job or as he goes to sleep each night. Be safe is self explanatory. His primary responsibility is to come home at the end of the day in same condition he arrived at work. I understand that he is exposed to danger every time he goes to work. Granted, our town does not have the action of some others, but Mike loves to work in a beat that has the most activity. He also sets a goal for himself each year. In previous years it has been to decrease the amount of domestic violence calls in a particular neighborhood, or traffic accidents in certain intersections. Last year it was to have a certain number of traffic tickets that did not involve using the radar gun, which led him to this year's goal. In stopping cars he began making a lot of arrests so he decided to clean up his area of servable warrants. As a result, Mike is leading the department in arrests which stirs up two emotional responses. First I am deeply and irrevocably proud of him! Second, I get scared because I know he is walking toward dangerous people when other people's response is to walk across the street. Not only is he walking towards them, but putting himself into a situation where conflict is likely to ensue because he is about to put them into handcuffs. This is why I tell him multiple times a day to be safe.

The second part of that statement is to have fun. When Mike was in elementary school he dreamed of being a cop. For him, playing cops and robbers was not a game, but something he could not wait to make a reality as an adult so that he could make a difference in this world. Becoming a police officer became Mike's passion. However, as any seasoned officer knows, the excitement of the job begins to wear off as the FNG (fabulous new guy) stage ends and the hard-hitting realities of the job set in. The job they once had passion about begins to fade because of politics, citizen complaints, BS general orders, being exposed to elements of society that are evil, dealing with critical incidents that are not debriefed, and possibly a bad supervisor or two.

The passion of why a person becomes a cop can easily be replaced with low morale that quickly turns to anger, resentment, and bitterness. Once this happens it is not just reserved for the job, but begins to affect an LEO's personal world. Officers can become critical of others at home, isolate from family and friends, watch too much television, go to choir practice, have affairs, or engage in other destructive behaviors. The low grade anger begins to feel normal and professional burnout becomes a constant state. Instead of looking forward to going to work each day, the officer begins to count down the days to retirement.

I have watched Mike hit the wall of burnout many times. I can always tell when it is beginning because his early warning sign is a gruff voice tone loaded with impatience. My laid back husband becomes unusually frustrated with everyday inconveniences such as bad drivers sharing the road with him, a simple request from a neighbor, or running out of milk for his morning coffee. Everyday inconveniences can turn into major hassles which are uncharacteristic of my laid back husband, but over the years he has learned how to take action against the burnout by having fun on the job and in his personal life. So my reason for telling him to have fun is to remind him that once the job is not fun anymore and burnout has become a constant state that will not be foregone, it is time to move on to another career path. I want him to know I support him having a career that he still enjoys doing rather than counting the days until he collects his pension.

As Mike would tell you, my simple reminder to have fun helps him to keep the job in perspective. It reminds him not to take himself or the job too seriously which is an easy line to cross when you have been given so much authority. It reminds him at the end of the day, the purpose of the job is to help fund our off time so that we can enjoy the life we are building together. It also tells him I value him over his paycheck and that I want him to be happy.

He would also tell you he has taken that statement and turned it into action. Mike is intentional about having fun on the job. He uses it to motivate himself, especially during times when he does not feel supported by line supervisors and upper management. He will take time to evaluate his own performance and decide what is important to him and what will motivate him into going to work, even when the general attitude of the department is low. He works at separating himself from the negativity by being intentional in setting forth positive goals that he can achieve. For Mike the theme of his goal is the thrill of the hunt. This past year has been about flushing out the bad guys/gals who have been hiding. He looks forward to learning the habits of those with warrants who live and work in his beat, and then bringing them in. At the time of writing this he is just shy of 100 arrests. At the end of the year, he always has something he can look back on and feel good about. For him, this is fun.

The statement be fun also reminds him to bring his sense of humor to work. It helps him break the tension in roll call, with coworkers, and with the general public when moments become too intense. He can also find the humor in himself which again reminds him not to take himself too seriously. Laughter is the best medicine against cynicism.

I admire the work my husband does. Our wish to all of you is to be safe and have fun.

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