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West Midlands Police Federation

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Flexible working ‘may boost effectiveness’

23 July 2020

A dramatic decrease in officer and staff sickness levels during the coronavirus crisis could show that allowing more flexible working patterns and home working could have an impact on the Force’s effectiveness, according to the deputy secretary of West Midlands Police Federation.

And Tim Rogers is hoping the Force will do some detailed analysis of sickness rates during the pandemic to see if more permanent changes to working practices could be made.

“Once coronavirus started to spread earlier this year, forces across England and Wales were concerned about how they would cope if a significant number of officers and staff started to fall ill or had to self- isolate. Quite rightly, contingency plans were discussed since, as an emergency service, we needed to maintain an effective service for the communities we serve,” Tim explains.

“However after an initial spike in the number of officers off sick, what we actually began to see was a pattern emerging where there was a steady decline in sickness levels. Before the pandemic, as a Federation, we were concerned that a snapshot of officers off sick at any one time was sitting at around 500 to 600 a day which means the Force has been paying hundreds of thousands of pounds in wages to people who are not actually at work.

“But, in the first week of June this year, on one day we had 392 staff and officers off sick so a considerable reduction on the levels we had been seeing. Perhaps this is because giving people the ability to work in a more agile way is actually helping some who would find it difficult to travel to and from a Force building to work and then work there for a full shift to actually work more effectively.

“So, maybe someone has a problem with their back. Travelling into work, sitting in an office for their shift and then travelling home again, perhaps with a half an hour commute either way, could just be too much for them but take the daily commute out of that, allow someone a little more flexibility – maybe spreading their eight-hour working day over 10 hours so they can take reasonable breaks and it can make it more workable. It could be the difference between someone being able to work or not.

“People don’t need to be present in a building to give value to the Force and I think maybe this is something we are starting to better understand. I would certainly like to see the Force carry out some more research into this to see if more agile working practices could help officers and staff but also benefit the Force.”

The fall in sickness has been matched by a reduction in the number of officers facing Regulation 28 hearings ahead of seeing their pay cut by half after a long period of sickness. This was averaging at 60 – 80 pre-pandemic which would mean the Force was paying more than £1 million over the period of 26 weeks when officers would be on full pay and then the following month another 60 – 80 would hit the 26-week period representing another £1m plus.

But at the most recent meeting this had fallen to around 45.

“While there is a small minority of officers who simply don’t want to work, the vast majority of these officers are people who actually want to be at work and want to contribute to policing even if in a limited capacity. These are officers who are frustrated at the lack of opportunity for them to get back into the workplace,” says Tim.

“Before the pandemic, we were seeing automatic barriers to home working and more flexible patterns but, with the Force buying 1,000 laptops when there was a need for as many people as possible to work from home, maybe now there will be less resistance to this continuing in the longer term. We will have to see.”

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October 2020
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