Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Morale Maze

There is an on going and vital debate about the state of morale in policing. 

Finding a route through the maze on this highly personal issue is not a task to be taken on lightly. 

But here goes.

Questions about morale - up, down, cause, effect, responsibility and solutions - generate a range of reactions, many of them understandably emotive.

Recently the Home Affairs Select Committee review and its call for a national plan was resurrected alongside the charge that Chief Officers were guilty of a ‘deafening silence’ on the subject. 

Setting aside that specific allegation for a moment the national plan as a solution seems to imply that having documented the full range of potential causes of low morale and laid bare the complexity of many of the issues, a national action plan would be the first step in turning round morale. 

This seems to me to be a gross over simplification of a complex and personal issue.

I have been speaking with officers and staff about their morale and reflecting on events and issues locally. 

Contrary to the cynics who will claim that the truth doesn’t reach the dizzy heights of my ivory tower I have heard many and varied views on staff morale and there was no shortage of straight talking.

In these discussions I have listened to colleagues discussing the reality of the Winsor changes to pay and conditions, the potential impact of direct entry and the broader changing landscape for professional development.

I have heard from officers about their recent postings undertaken as part of our change programme. I have been discussing the new operating model being put into place with new shift patterns negotiated and agreed with the Federation.

Some colleagues talked of their partner’s job insecurity away from policing and others had a number of significant domestic challenges within their immediate family.

All of us were weary of the daily onslaught on the integrity and professionalism of the police service and frustrated by the fact that much of it seems self generated.

Finally I was struck by how cop focused much of the debate has become overlooking that police staff are the most vulnerable in the on going change programmes in forces with many bearing the brunt of staff reductions. 

I am certain we cannot discuss morale in the police service and only talk about cops.

Throughout these encounters I was left wondering what a national action plan could reasonably hope to address and how it would help?

In agreeing possible solutions we need to start with a recognition that low morale is not a phenomenon unique to the police service.

For those colleagues contemplating a career change I am pretty certain the grass is not going to be greener in teaching, social work, nursing or the armed services, who continue to be made redundant while on active service!

A sense of perspective and scale is therefore important in any debate and seeking to exaggerate the uniqueness of policing in the current climate pervading the wider public service will not serve us well.

However, policing has had to contend with significant changes to terms and conditions, alongside the impact of the biggest changes to policing in a generation.

The catalyst of austerity and the associated redesign of services means for many that the only certainty going forward is uncertainty. 

Policing will continue to be under the cumulative impact of these ‘public’ challenges. These will sit alongside the ‘personal’ impact on individuals which in turn jostle with the ‘private’ issues that we all grapple with. The affect and impact will be different dependant on our circumstances.

That is why solutions will not be found in a national action plan. Staff morale and its impact on policing is being discussed at every level of the service and I don’t accept the deafening silence charge.

Going forward the Morale Maze will be successfully navigated by leaders who listen, who acknowledge the issues and work collectively to identify solutions and who are honest and open with staff including keeping the right sense of perspective. 

Most importantly we need to remember that staff well being is a precursor to good policing not a nice to do. 

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