Holding the Line
Time off work isn’t just for physical ailments anymore
Although I believe we have improved significantly when we look at how we address time off at work, I feel we still have a long way to go in how we ascribe value to it and manage it as individuals. Time off is integral in the world of policing but there is an unspoken word amongst us officers that we must be justifiably ill in order to take a sick day.
By Michelle Vincent
Time off in the culture of policing is seen as time off from a profession where the members do not feel the organization can manage without them. Those of us who have been serving for many years often experience this belief — the job won’t get done unless we are there to do it. Hopefully this is starting to change with the next generation of officers.
When we think of the healthy things time away from work brings, it is difficult to understand why we are so hard on ourselves — and our colleagues — when it comes to this topic. I don’t think there is a unit I have worked in where snide remarks were not made about someone who was away on sick time or where a colleague hasn’t felt the need to fully explain their entire life history as to why they were not well enough to come in.
Let’s rework the concept of time off so we are not afraid of what others will think, say or do. We live perceptual lives and everything we experience is a result of our perception. With this in mind, perhaps allowing ourselves the time off — regardless of the reason — would improve the work environment, resulting in more of us not requiring as much time off, or being ill as often or for as long.
We have the power to apply those changes as leaders in our work environments, recognizing that time off work for mental health illness is just as important as it is for those injuries and illnesses that are visually observable. Perhaps this is the issue we are challenging ourselves with — no different than what we as a culture are coming to accept in regards to occupational stress injury. We may also want to look at how taking time off of work for mental health needs may be another form of preventing long term injury.
It’s an interesting concept to explore as first responders are in the limelight when it comes to occupational stress injury, PTSD, anxiety and depression, along with a myriad of other ailments that are now “acceptable” for us to have. I wonder, if we took the time we need to look after ourselves and our loved ones from the start — from a dietary, physical, mental and, yes, a time off perspective — if we might improve our resiliency and therefore our vulnerability to these serious issues.
If we notice we are coming down with the flu, either during our block of work or just prior to our first day, and we take that small bit of time off to look after ourselves from a physical perspective — including but not limited to getting the extra sleep we may need — instead of coming in sick and spreading germs, we physically strengthen not only ourselves but also those around us.
It should be no different from a mental health perspective. For example, let’s say we are experiencing depression as a result of a bad call. Perhaps it’s nothing too serious but we are emotionally depleted and notice our irritability from a lack of sleep due to our minds being wrapped up in the call. Taking time off would allow us to get some sleep, nurture the soul (without saturating it with the next call), perhaps research some mental health services, and ultimately take the time needed to care for that part of ourselves that is not visible when it is injured or unwell.
It is our responsibility to manage our time off. As leaders, we have the power to demonstrate how to come to work at our best. Then we are able to deal effectively with the often-challenging incidents we are handed in the course of our day/night shift. We have the power to ensure we will be effective backup when our partners need us and we do this by changing the perception of the value of time off and choosing to care for ourselves.
Michelle Vincent is a 15-year York Regional Police officer with a Masters Degree in Arts in Counselling Psychology and a background in equine assisted therapy, workplace reintegration and teaching. Her counselling practice is supervised by a psychologist with a specialty in addictions and trauma. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.