Praise and Recognition: The Importance of Social Support in Law Enforcement

Article excerpt

Mark Twain once said, "I can live for 2 months on a good compliment." Wise managers in today's law enforcement agencies will adopt this adage as a means for leading employees. When used effectively, praise holds many benefits. Empirical research, social psychology, manager and employee surveys, and motivational experts repeatedly have proven this fact. A law enforcement agency that values and implements this ideology will create an environment that helps to alleviate employee stress, improve morale, increase productivity, and retain personnel.

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STRESS IN POLICE WORK

Sources

People commonly consider violence and danger or the potential of such the leading antecedents to stress in police work. Other perceived main stressors include external, uncontrollable factors, such as protracted periods of low activity interspersed with brief periods of excitement. However, analyses of the officers themselves presented a different picture. One study revealed that they perceived most stress as originating within the workplace. Specifically cited were relationships with supervisors. One officer observed, "The most stressful call is the one that summons you to headquarters." (1)

When officers in both the United States and the United Kingdom listed significant causes of stress, they cited poor and insensitive supervision among the most primary sources. (2) Additional studies evidencing that management and organizational issues accounted for most workplace stress in the police service have supported these findings. This contradicts the long-held belief that factors external to the law enforcement organization primarily lead to stress.

Consequences

Stress represents a person's internal response to external stimuli. Typically, stress associated with the rigors of police work is defined as "distress," which occurs when a person faces challenges beyond regular coping abilities, resulting in taxed biological systems and, in turn, negative mental and physical effects. Some of the key consequences of police stress include--

* cynicism and suspiciousness;

* emotional detachment from various aspects of daily life;

* reduced efficiency;

* absenteeism and early retirement;

* excessive aggressiveness and a related increase in citizen complaints; and

* heart attacks, ulcers, weight gain, and other health problems. (3)

The police agency also will suffer because of the instances of lower morale, inefficiency, increased absenteeism, and friction with citizens due to rudeness or poor service that ultimately can hurt the department's public image.

Stress also exacts far-reaching burdens as it not only affects officers and agencies but also harms families of law enforcement personnel. This holds particularly true for their spouses, who often experience unusually high levels of stress due to the police occupation. (4)

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PRAISE REAPPRAISED

Fortunately, unlike many of the external stressors of police work, managers can improve their supervisory skills, and organizations can provide a more supportive environment for their employees. In this regard, praise--although not a panacea for the mental and physical ailments common to police officers--has proven to have many benefits that should bear the attention of today's progressive police managers.

Societal changes have resulted in police agencies moving away from the paramilitary structure of years past. Today's more-educated officers hold degrees in a variety of areas. Gone are the days when a majority of police applicants held prior military experience, accustomed to taking orders without question. Agency leaders now utilize coaching and mentoring programs better served to influence desired behavior. This manner of leading requires praise to build self-esteem within the developing officer. …