Time spent recruiting and retaining is time well spent: The people make the organization. (PHOTO MARK C. IDE) Recruits/Graduates
Minneapolis Sergeant Darah Westermeyer
Minneapolis Sergeant Darah Westermeyer receives his medal of valor. Recognition of good performance is key to retention. Minneapolis Sergeant Darah Westermeyer
FEATURED IN LEADERSHIP
Officer Ron Colb had been with Anytown Police Department for two years. Tired of a lack of support from his department’s management and city council, coupled with limited affordable housing and lower-than-average pay, he resigned and went to work for another police department. Chief among his complaints was a perception that supervisors and managers picked at the little things but failed to provide positive comments when he did something right.
“In two years,” he said, “I didn’t get any letters of appreciation. In my new department, I have received three in two-and-a-half months. It’s a huge difference in terms of positive reinforcement. The new agency makes it known when you do a good job.”
Although the name is fictitious, the details are not. A 2006 study, conducted by the California POST Commission, found that just over 22% of nearly 80,000 officers switched agencies at least once. Of those who switched agencies, 25% did so within 1.5 years and 50% by 3.8 years on the job.
But what does that have to do with today? After all, budgets are tight, and many agencies are having difficulty hanging on to those officers they worked so hard to recruit. Those that are still hiring have likely seen an increase in the applicant pool as laid-off workers in other industries are trying to find more secure employment. Two key points need to be understood: First, you must retain your best workers. Second, once this recession is over, there will be a mad dash to find qualified workers as industries—law enforcement included—begin hiring again, so you must keep your eye on the future.
Employee Retention & Engagement
In these recessionary times, governing bodies are looking for ways to cut costs. Among the areas under attack are police budgets. Part of this quest is cutting compensation and benefit packages, including retirement. Too frequently, police training budgets have been slashed and promotions have been frozen. Needless to say, the picture is pretty bleak in many agencies. The good news is that there’s much—that won’t cost a penny—to keep good officers from voluntarily jumping ship.
The literature is replete with information that points to the immediate supervisor or manager as the key player in employee retention. In his book, The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, Leigh Branham reports that when four basic needs—trust, hope, sense of worth and a feeling of competence—are not met, employees begin to disengage. Branham also cites seven reasons employees voluntarily leave: 1) unmet job expectations, 2) poor job fit, 3) lack of coaching and performance feedback, 4) lack of professional development and promotional opportunities, 5) not feeling valued or recognized, 6) workplace stress due to job demands and work-life balance conflict, and 7) lack of trust and belief in senior leadership.
He says the majority of turnover is voluntary and, among those who leave, about 70% of contributing factors could be controlled by the immediate supervisor or manager. To repeat an old adage, “People quit bosses, not organizations.”
Chief Todd Wuestewald of Oklahoma’s Broken Arrow Police Department, whose agency lost eight positions due to budget cuts, said, “People are what organizations and cities run on. If we find ourselves in a tight spot, it’s our people who will find a way to adapt and get the job done. We will all come through together. We’ll do it by counting on, and believing in, each other.”
The bottom line: Empathy, communication and teamwork are essential in these uncertain times.
A review of four police studies on retention found that job satisfaction and organizational commitment were important to improving police retention. What drives job satisfaction and organizational commitment in police organizations? These studies found job satisfaction was improved when officers feel the significance and importance of their work, are capable of doing the work, have a sense of autonomy in doing the job and receive recognition for a job well done. Organizational commitment was strengthened when officers felt supported by the line-manager, participated in decision-making, received adequate feedback regarding job task and job performance, and received positive recognition.[2 - 4]
Captain Mitch Cunningham, Montgomery County (Md.) Department of Police, believes his department’s culture helps retain and engage staff. “In our organizational culture, power is pushed to lower ranks,” he said. “Our officers have authority to make decisions, which are supported by supervisors. There is an appreciation for each other’s role. Officers assess the situation, call the shots and make decisions.”
This type of culture nurtures job satisfaction and organizational commitment. “My research has shown that good first-line leadership reduces turnover intentions and job search behaviors,” said Lt. Mark Bowman, Virginia Beach Police Department. “It is critical that first-line leaders continue to lead well lest they worsen officers’ work environments. These first line leaders have limited power and authority to influence human capital policy and practice, but they do have great power to make inflexible human capital policy and practice much more unbearable. Police organizations will have to utilize much more flexible human capital policy and practice in order to meet the needs of police officers. If we achieve that flexibility, and our first-line leaders continue to lead well, our officers will be more than happy to continue to police our communities.”
Related to retention is engagement. The Corporate Leadership Council in its report, Driving Performance and Retention Through Employee Engagement defines engagement as, “the extent to which employees commit to something or someone in their organization and how hard they work and how long they stay as a result of that commitment.” Two types of commitment were identified: rational, which is “the extent to which employees believe that managers, teams, or organizations are in their self-interest (financial, developmental, or professional),” and emotional, which is “the extent to which employees value, enjoy and believe in their jobs, managers, teams or organizations.”
This broad-based study involved more than 50,000 employees from different organizations, countries and industries. Among the results were these findings: Emotional commitment was four times as powerful as rational commitment, and 72% (36) of the top 50 commitment drivers were based on managerial characteristics, such as “commits to diversity,” “demonstrates honesty and integrity,” “adapts to changing circumstances,” “clearly articulates organizational goals” and “cares about employees.”
The Tacoma (Wash.) Police Department has recently developed a new performance management system. At the core of its approach is an emphasis on coaching.
“The younger generation expects their opinions and ideas to matter,” said Lt. Corey Darlington. “They want to be heard and participate. We wanted to improve performance and morale through coaching. Officers are generally accepting of the coaching process and appreciate talking to supervisors one on one. It gives them an opportunity to get feedback and share their thoughts about the department’s future. It also assists supervisors and managers in learning, developing and supporting the career goals of officers under their command.”
Much of this can be summed up as caring for your employees and letting them know you care by giving them feedback on performance. Caring also involves letting them know that you value their opinion, serious consideration is given to this feedback, and you tell them what you decided to do with it. Oh, and they’ll know if you are serious about it, so don’t just pretend.
Recruitment & Retention in the Future
In his book, The Extreme Future: The Top Trends That Will Reshape the World In The Next 20 Years, James Canton, PhD, says that by 2015 there will be 15 million more jobs than there are qualified workers to fill them. The recruitment challenges for law enforcement that existed prior to the current recession will resurface upon recovery. Because government typically lags behind business, businesses will be actively pursuing and hiring the most qualified candidates they can find prior to government joining the hiring foray.
In the current recession, many law enforcement agencies have stopped hiring and disbanded their recruitment units. When hiring resumes, they’ll be challenged to reestablish hiring momentum because of a loss of institutional recruitment knowledge and the need to train new staff. Some agencies, like the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), have been able to continue hiring. Hence, its recruitment unit will be primed to expand efforts. Others will be just starting their recruitment engines. In fact, LAPD has continued to provide training to its recruiters to enhance their competency and improve their effectiveness.
A survey of California chiefs of police and sheriffs revealed fewer than 10% have written recruitment strategic plans. However, prior to the recession, many California agencies were having difficulty filling the ranks. Agencies felt the pain of not being able to find qualified staff, but failed to plan and act strategically—a reality that’s pervasive in the industry.
The California POST Commission has invested in developing a Recruitment Strategic Planning Guide that will be published later this year. The purpose of this guide is to help agencies develop strategic plans to improve their recruitment efforts. This guide is cross-referenced with the Recruitment and Retention: Best Practices Update, which POST published in 2006.
Now is a good time to do some strategic thinking. In the process, it might be worthwhile to consider options like cadet and explorer programs, law enforcement magnet or public safety charter high school programs, or internships for high school and college students. These can be productive ways to “grow your own” for those who have patience and long-term vision.
In light of the current recession, agencies need to care about their staff in order to retain and engage them. At the same time, they must not forget that the recruitment challenge will return. If agencies don’t take time to plan until they’re ready to hire, they’ll find themselves at the end of the line when it comes to hiring qualified candidates. Keep the best today, and begin planning now to hire the best tomorrow.
- Zhao J, Thurman Q, He N: “Sources of job satisfaction among police officers: A test of demographic and work environment models.” Justice Quarterly. 16(1):153–167, 1999.
- Metcalfe B, Dick G: “Exploring organization commitment in the police.” Policing: An International Journal of Policing Strategy and Management. 24(3):399–419, 2001.
- Beck K, Wilson C: “Police officers’ views on cultivating organizational commitment.” Policing: An International Journal of Policing Strategy and Management. 20(1):175–195, 1997.
- Brunetto Y, Farr-Wharton R: “The commitment and satisfaction of lower-ranked police officers.” Policing: An International Journal of Policing Strategy and Management. 26(1):43–63, 2003.