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Welfare and demand – the next steps

Tuesday, 01 November 2016


At a time of growing demand on the police service, Mary Elliott-Davies, Research Practitioner at the Federation of England and Wales, outlines the on-going work to understand the impact of this on the welfare of officers.

Over the last few years it’s been cuts, cuts and more cuts. Since 2010, the central budget for policing has been slashed by over 20% resulting in a 14% fall in officer numbers, the equivalent of over 19,000 officers.

This substantial drop spurred us to start exploring the impacts; who this might be affecting, and how. As such our national survey on officer welfare and demand was born.

During focus groups with Federation Health and Safety reps, we asked them questions about their experiences of staffing levels, factors that affected these, and what the common outcomes were for both officers and the general public when staffing didn’t meet demand.

After careful analysis we identified all the emergent themes and how they interacted with each other. The two key issues raised were:

  1. Officers hold a perception of a poor demand and capacity balance within the service, and;
  2. How this imbalance is believed to be affecting policing in the following three ways:
    1. Impacting on officers’ wellbeing (e.g. increased stress).
    2. Impacting on the service delivered to the public (e.g. reducing proactive policing due to time constraints); and, ultimately
    3. Impacting on public welfare too (e.g. increased emergency response times).

The main aims of this piece of work have been to further explore the wellbeing impacts or, more specifically;

  • create a psychological and physiological welfare profile of police officers in England and Wales,
  • measure the relationship between key welfare elements such as stress and fatigue, with demand and capacity.

To demonstrate academic rigor and enhance credibility of the research, the survey was run by a third party, Dr Jonathan Houdmont from Nottingham University.

We owe thanks to every one of the 17,000+ officers who completed the survey throughout February – their diligence and honesty enabled us to collect some really important data that will help us to influence decisions that could help make their working lives just that little bit better.

Although we hadn’t finished fully analysing the data, we revealed some initial results at our annual conference in May.

Interestingly (and reassuringly!) some of the headlines supported the evidence from the earlier focus groups.

66% of the sample said their workload was too high and only 9% felt that they had enough officers to meet the demands made on their team. Ouch. That’s a pretty powerful message.

But what about the wellbeing of officers? What does that currently look like?

The short answer to that is… really rather terrible.  Over twice as many of the respondents reported their jobs to be very or extremely stressful when compared to the general population.

62% of our respondents stated that they had never, or rarely, felt optimistic in the last two weeks and 60% said that they never, or rarely, felt relaxed. That is over three and five times more likely (respectively) when comparing to the general public.  Just imagine that – literally try to imagine how that would feel.

With so many officers feeling so negative and tense, it’s no wonder that 39% of respondents said that they had previously sought help from a professional for feelings of stress, low mood, anxiety or other difficulties with their mental health.

Although the evidence suggests both a) that there is widespread perception among officers of demand-capacity imbalance in policing, and b) police officers psychological wellbeing is considerably poorer than the general publics - are the two linked?

And if there’s such high need for well-being support – what is currently out there for officers to access? Are line managers trained and confident in supporting people who are experiencing challenges to their mental health and wellbeing? And are officers supported appropriately if they disclose? And if they don’t disclose, why not?

The answers to these questions will come in time – but don’t worry – not too much time! Headline stats from all the survey questions will be available before the end of 2016, and a more complex report detailing the relationships between some of the key data will be available in May 2017.

However, if you’ve got any questions – or would just like to talk about the project, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I’m always more than happy to chat to people about what we’re up to in the research department!

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