In his January blog, Wellbeing lead Dan Lever talks about the important role supervisors play
Trust is vital within teams.
And when it comes to policing, it’s even more so.
We work closely alongside our colleagues in high-pressure circumstances, and knowing there is someone you can turn to, and who will listen, is so reassuring.
I have been fortunate during my career, when I’ve needed support, that I’ve felt confident I can be honest with my supervisor about how I’m coping.
Had it been different – and either I’d not had that faith or, worse, been turned away when I reached out for help – I suspect I’d never have spoken to them again about my wellbeing.
‘The role of a supervisor is key,’ replied one commenter when I wrote last month about the increasing number of police officers taking time off because of mental ill health.
I could not agree more.
I’ve insisted for a while, and in a vocal way, that the part played by supervisors is essential if we’re serious about prioritising police welfare.
Let me be clear; that does not mean they are solely responsible, nor is it about passing the buck.
However, the nature of their job, and the conversations they initiate with officers, naturally positions them to confront this issue.
There is good evidence that supervisors supporting their team members’ health and emotional needs is associated with the wellbeing of their staff, including improving self-esteem and reducing job stress and emotional exhaustion.
The results of the Pay and Morale Survey 2022 reinforce why that is important.
Close to half of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary said that they find their job ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ stressful.
A total of 85 per cent indicated that they had experienced feelings of low mood, anxiety or other difficulties with their health and wellbeing over the previous 12 months.
Those are numbers we have to take seriously.
The College of Policing, in its guidance on effective supervision, says the following about supporting wellbeing:
‘Supervisors should proactively:
identify, understand and respond to their staff’s health and emotional needs, as well as their own
- be aware of the internal and external support available
- signpost staff to the most appropriate support and helping them to access it
- ensure that reasonable adjustments are put in place when required, to enable their staff to work safely’
How many officers recognise this? For too many, this isn’t their reality.
A culture that prioritises performance, which of course is important, above everything else leaves less room to consider wellbeing.
I’ve been asked if supervisors possess the tools they need to deliver what is expected of them, and the answer is: ‘No’.
We must fix that.
It’s unfair to demand team leaders spot the signs of deteriorating mental health without appropriate training.
If we believe prevention is better than cure, and I do, then let’s commit to it and invest in their development.
It’s like telling bobbies to avoid patrolling a problem area and instead wait until a crime is reported before leaving the station to deal with it.
We know we ought to intervene much earlier, and the same is true for mental ill health.
I don’t believe the solution is attempting to bring everybody up to an imposed standard because some people are innately more comfortable discussing emotional distress.
Instead, a more realistic goal would be to provide awareness training that equips supervisors with the confidence and knowledge to point officers in the direction of appropriate help from experts in the field.
When asked whether they were aware of mental health and wellbeing services that their force offers, 73 per cent of respondents in Cheshire reported they were aware of reactive provision.
However, that figure was 37 per cent when it came to knowledge of proactive help like resilience coaching, mindfulness workshops, or mental health awareness programmes – significantly lower than the national average.
I can almost guarantee that if you asked every supervisor what support was available right now, only a small percentage would be able to tell you.
The information that is out there is too hard to find. It’s also incomplete.
If we’re going to ask supervisors to signpost, then it needs to be easy to do. Let’s facilitate that.
The Federation has a role to play here too.
While we are not a substitute, nor can we take on the responsibilities of a supervisor as envisioned by the College of Policing, I would like us to be able to give advice when it is requested and support those in leadership roles.
To those members who do not feel comfortable approaching their supervisor, I always say speak to us instead.
In the worst cases, officers are told they have to solve their mental ill health problems away from the workplace in their own time.
Given that 68 per cent of respondents from Cheshire Constabulary told the Pay and Morale Survey that their workload has been ‘too high’ or ‘much too high’ over the previous 12 months, and the that most common reason given by those intending to leave is ‘the impact of the job on my mental health and wellbeing’, that’s totally unacceptable.
Fortunately, those instances are rare.
When it comes to wellbeing, the situation in Cheshire is improving.
There are leaders who are invested in their team’s welfare and will go the extra mile to make sure an officer’s voice is heard, and make changes after listening carefully.
Those supervisors have a can-do attitude, seeking out the answers they need.
I’d like progress to accelerate, though, and the biggest challenge remains making the case that welfare must be given parity with performance
After all, the two are inextricably linked.
If any worker is struggling emotionally, how can they possibly perform at their best?
Communication between supervisors and police officers about their performance should incorporate wellbeing to be truly meaningful.
That must become the norm.
We also need to acknowledge that supervisor support cannot fully mitigate against the negative effects of continually high workload demands.
That said, I passionately believe it is part of the solution.