Blue Line

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HOLDING THE LINE


March 21, 2014
By Stephanie Conn

709 words – MR

Be an active agent in your life

by Stephanie Conn

I am conducting a study on work-life balance in police officers. In advertising for it, I received a flood of responses about how police organizations don’t let officers have a life outside of policing.

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Between the shiftwork, uncaring attitude of supervisors, the organization as a whole, court on days off, etc., they report that there is no chance of a personal life.

Despite all of these “less than positive” responses, several officers e-mailed to say they have work-life balance and others said they knew someone who did. What is the difference between those who say that police work and agencies do not permit a life outside of policing and those who can strike that balance? It’s as if they work in two totally different professions.

I wondered what it must feel like to have work dictate your life. It seems it would be an unbearable way to live – to be so powerless to carve your own way through life. I would be angry, anxious, sad and resentful of this kind of life. In speaking with others, which I will only address briefly since I am in the middle of conducting this study, there seems to be a sense of choice, personal responsibility and the ability to influence their circumstances.

I asked one 30-year veteran officer how he made sense of this and he gave me permission to share his reply. He told of a very unhappy co-worker who seemed to have lost sight of why he became a police officer in the first place. This unhappy officer no longer felt the sense of purpose and enjoyment in his work.

The officer I interviewed offered his wisdom to this unhappy man and others like him. His advice: challenge yourself to consider and make choices in order to be the cop and the person you want to be. You will never have control over police work or the organization, but you can decide how you will spend your personal time. You can spend it in a way that makes you happy or in a way that makes you miserable. It’s roughly the same amount of work.

You can spend your free time ruminating on the ways you are powerless and how police works sucks the life out of you – or you can catch yourself engaging in this downward spiral of negativity and change directions.

I’ve spent my whole life in a police organization. My dad was married to the job throughout my childhood and I went into policing myself so I have had a fair amount of experience listening to officers talk about their jobs. It’s not easy to be around people who complain like a broken record about how things should be as opposed to how they are.

This is not to deny that things should change or imply that certain practices or policies are acceptable. Shift work and the 24/7 nature of police work is difficult. The challenge is to figure out how to work within that reality. Progress is desirable and I don’t mean to silence anyone’s voice in speaking out for improvements.

This kind of conversation is different because it is in hopes of creating change and/or removing the barriers to progress. The other kind of conversation is circular complaints without any purpose other than to vent, yet this kind of venting actually makes people feel worse, not better.

My aim is not to shame the officers who vented their frustrations to me but, rather, to challenge them and you to channel the energy used to voice these frustrations into an action plan for yourself – and maybe even for your fellow officers or the organization as a whole. Maybe those who vented their frustrations to me ARE doing that and I am just making assumptions. In fact, I hope that is the case. However, I know there are some who are not taking action in their lives, hence the purpose of my study – to determine how to help others build a sense of control in their personal lives and promote their well-being.

(Contact me if you are interested in a summary of the findings when they become available.)

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