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LEWIS – BREAKING A TRUST


July 29, 2015
By Chris D. Lewis

by Chris D. Lewis

Many years ago, as a young constable in a northern posting, I had heated words with a fellow officer that was lazy, rumor-mongering and nothing more than a distraction for the other committed five members. I’m not proud of the way I let my temper get the better of me, but we ended up yelling in the detachment garage and coming very close to a fist fight.

Right or wrong, I told him he was of minimal value to co-workers, continually let us down and was a complete irritant. The corporal wasn’t saying it so I felt someone had to.

Throughout our careers, we all work with the very best of people, a whole pile of good folks and sadly – the worst. The poor performers, who are also often unprofessional, negatively impact our fragile public trust. They ultimately cost police agencies an untold piece of increasingly limited budgets through laziness, abuse of sick leave and toxic impact on morale.

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Others carry these people by doing more than their fair share. Money is wasted on them through public complaints and internal investigations that would not be necessary if they simply did their jobs well. When they do actually come to work, they do little to nothing to protect the public.

A few commit egregious criminal acts off-duty, totally tainting the image of policing as a whole, but are still supported and paid full salary for several years while others carry their weight at work.

Through all of the above malfeasance, police associations too often waste valuable employee dues defending them through thick and thin, often over and over – but who are they letting down in the process? Supervisors? For sure. The public? Most definitely, and it is the public that they are sworn to serve.

They also let down each one of their co-workers and the entire police service, day in and day out.

When I was OPP commissioner during a difficult budget debate with our ministry executive group, I agreed to a 10 percent budget cut, with one proviso – that I could pick the 10 percent of staff that were laid off. They laughed in response, but I had never been more serious.

Not only would we save salary dollars, we would improve public trust and retain countless funds by not having to deal with the tsunami of process grief that they bring us. That money doesn’t simply fall from the sky. It is diverted from salary, training or equipment and therefore not available for its intended use.

“Every dollar you spend keeping a problem employee on payroll is furthering the severely harmful effects they can have on your business,” notes author Susie Wittbrodt in her Kinesis Inc. article, .

<If the bad apple conducts unprofessional interactions with clients, those relationships will suffer. Additionally, if they bring excessive drama into the mix or if other team members have to pick up the slack from their poor work ethic, you can expect a substantial drop in morale.

While many don’t realize it, the financial impact that a bad apple employee can have on your company is truly staggering. Whether they are ‘bad’ because they are underperforming, pessimistic or unpleasant – studies show that just one bad apple in an otherwise high-performing group can bring down productivity by as much as 30 to 40 per cent.

In addition to the direct costs affecting co-workers’ performance, there are additional “weak performer” soft costs that you must factor into the equation. These include: absenteeism, customer loss, mistakes, wasted manager time (and) lost credibility.>

I know that some supervisors at times unfairly pick on and discipline certain employees that perhaps they do not like. That is never acceptable and thankfully police associations intervene through due process to right such wrongs. Most supervisors actually do get it right but when they follow the proper process to discipline employees and/or improve performance, they often face an uphill battle that is tiring and disheartening. I get that. Regardless, that is their job, and they should never back down from a fight that is the right thing to do.

Should co-workers accept any responsibility in trying to make these people carry their weight? Do they have a role in challenging problem colleagues that make them work harder for the same pay and cover for them when they repetitively feign illness? They certainly don’t have any legislated responsibility, but ethically? Morally? There is no solid answer.

I’m not suggesting a volley of punch-ups but I believe that frank dialogue at the peer level would significantly influence some poor performers. Supervisors still need to do their job in all of this – there’s no denying that – but the offenders need to hear from co-workers that although they may think they’re “beating the system”, it’s impacting the morale of shift mates who are not happy about doing their work, functioning shorthanded and doing so much more for the same pay.

I think “interventions,” so to speak, where a problem employee has to sit in a circle and look colleagues in the eye while they tell them how their performance – or lack thereof – is hurting them and the organization, would have a much a greater impact than hearing it from a supervisor.

Risk adverse police service counsel and police association leaders will undoubtedly cringe when they read these words, but that’s too bad. Deep down inside, they know it is true.


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