Dealing with employee stress: how managers can help--or hinder--their personnel.
Stress is a critical issue within contemporary organizations and society. For law enforcement agencies A law enforcement agency (LEA) is a term used to describe any agency which enforces the law. This may be a local or state police, federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) or the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). , it can arise from a variety of sources. For example, stress may stem from circumstances or incidents that occurred as a result of the unique nature of an officer's job or personal life issues. Or, problems that develop similar to those in any workplace may cause it.
Unfortunately, some management practices also create stress in the life of the individual employee. While contemporary leadership and supervisory courses foster effective management techniques, some managers, often trained in traditional policies or management practices or, perhaps, more interested in their own advancement, forget that their actions can create a stressful work environment and impact the success and well-being of a work unit or organization. How are these less than effective managers creating such stress?
WHAT ARE THEY DOING?
Ineffectively Dealing with Assignments
Especially in law enforcement, many assignments and responsibilities must carry a sense of urgency because they are important and necessary and have a strict deadline. Yet, not every action is or needs to be portrayed por·tray
tr.v. por·trayed, por·tray·ing, por·trays
1. To depict or represent pictorially; make a picture of.
2. To depict or describe in words.
3. To represent dramatically, as on the stage. as a crisis, particularly on the administrative side of an agency. Stress results when managers treat all assignments as the crisis du jour du jour
1. Prepared for a given day: The soup du jour is cream of potato.
2. Most recent; current: the trend du jour. and pressure employees to labor under unnecessary deadlines and stressful conditions for normal tasks. Others fail to understand the magnitude of the tasks they assign or do not appreciate the time, detail, and effort necessary to bring a project to fruition fru·i·tion
1. Realization of something desired or worked for; accomplishment: labor finally coming to fruition.
2. Enjoyment derived from use or possession.
3. . Unrealistic expectations and deadlines often make staff feel unnecessarily burdened and frustrated frus·trate
tr.v. frus·trat·ed, frus·trat·ing, frus·trates
a. To prevent from accomplishing a purpose or fulfilling a desire; thwart: by their assignments.
Furthermore, managers who attempt to exert and maintain control over employees and their work by assigning it in a piecemeal piecemeal
patchy, e.g. necrosis of the liver in which groups of hepatocytes are separated by small groups of inflammatory cells and fine, fibrous septa following extension of the inflammatory process beyond the limiting plate. fashion cause stressful environments. In these instances, employees continually must return to their supervisors for additional information before they can successfully complete any assignment.
A clear distinction exists between knowing what is going on within an organization and among employees and trying to perform or dictate staff members' jobs. Supervisors who micromanage micromanage Administration A popular term for excess oversight of lower management by upper management place too much emphasis on structuring and controlling subordinates' workdays and dictating the only acceptable response to assigned tasks. They tend to focus too little on developing employees' knowledge, skills, and abilities that will help them work independently and achieve their own success.
Communication is, of course, a critical element in effective agency management. Some managers may find interpersonal communication Interpersonal communication is the process of sending and receiving information between two or more people. Types of Interpersonal Communication
This kind of communication is subdivided into dyadic communication, Public speaking, and small-group communication. difficult, and they may avoid interaction with employees, choosing to communicate only via written memoranda or e-mail. Others might limit face-to-face contact with their subordinates, preferring to stay in their own offices. In all of these cases, effective communication is less likely to occur, and employees frequently fume fume Occupational medicine A solid suspension resulting from condensation of the products of combustion. See Inhalant Vox populi verbTo be in the midst of a mental mini-meltdown. with frustration.
Difficulties in Evaluating Performance
Law enforcement personnel recognize that discipline and performance evaluations Performance evaluation
The assessment of a manager's results, which involves, first, determining whether the money manager added value by outperforming the established benchmark (performance measurement) and, second, determining how the money manager achieved the calculated return are necessary parts of the job. They expect, however, that managers will administer both fairly and consistently. Organizational stress arises when managers show favoritism to certain subordinates, invoke To activate a program, routine, function or process. discipline for no apparent reason, or evaluate staff against ill-defined or arbitrary standards.
In most agencies, while the majority of employees appropriately respond to community or organizational expectations for their performance, some fail to meet these standards or display the professional values exhibited by their peers. In such cases, employees expect managers to deal with problem personnel. When managers ignore nonperformance or provide excuses for these subordinates without addressing the actual problem, they undermine morale and add to the stress and frustration of those who simply seek to do right and expect bosses to do the same.
Supervisors who appreciate employees' accomplishments and comprehend the volume and intensity of their workloads remain key to positive emotional health of personnel. Yet, in spite of this accepted fact of management, some still fail to acknowledge the impact of multiple assignments and the demands required of professional performance. These managers who have yet to learn to say thank you cause stress for their employees and fail to reach their own expected leadership potential.
Effective law enforcement now, perhaps more than ever, requires managers who adopt a reasoned, flexible approach to the changing demands placed upon them and their resources. Community concerns, internal politics, and external political realities frequently have generated inflexible, knee-jerk managerial responses to the immediate issue. Such ill-timed and poorly planned reactions lack adequate consideration about anticipated or unintended consequences For the "Law of unintended consequences", see Unintended consequence
Unintended Consequences is a novel by author John Ross, first published in 1996 by Accurate Press. and place the most significant stress upon the individuals who carry out the decisions and most directly live with the results.
Perhaps, employees feel most frustrated when managers refuse to give or share credit for a team's success or decline to accept responsibility for failure. People desire appreciation and acknowledgment acknowledgment, in law, formal declaration or admission by a person who executed an instrument (e.g., a will or a deed) that the instrument is his. The acknowledgment is made before a court, a notary public, or any other authorized person. of their contributions to a group's accomplishments. At the same time, they respect managers who acknowledge their own failures and recognize that many frustrations within an organizational unit In computing, an Organizational Unit (OU) provides a way of classifying objects located in directories, or names in a digital certificate hierarchy, typically used either to differentiate between objects with the same name (John Doe in OU "marketing" versus John Doe in OU "customer should not rest solely on an individual employee.
WHAT STEPS CAN MANAGERS TAKE TO REDUCE EMPLOYEE STRESS?
How can managers reduce the stress they cause employees and improve their own effectiveness? In addition to understanding the impact of their actions on subordinates and continuing to learn and apply productive leadership and management skills, managers can take several other specific steps.
Communicating with Others
In many organizations, a collapse of communication causes the breakdown in relations between labor and management. Within smaller units, when managers fail to communicate with their employees or do not encourage reciprocal communication, negative results ensue en·sue
intr.v. en·sued, en·su·ing, en·sues
1. To follow as a consequence or result. See Synonyms at follow.
2. To take place subsequently. . Effective leadership within an agency and management of human resources The fancy word for "people." The human resources department within an organization, years ago known as the "personnel department," manages the administrative aspects of the employees. require effective and ongoing communication at all levels. To ensure such communication, everyone within the organization must view managers as fair, open, and honest. Trust between managers and subordinates is required for the most successful operations. From the beginning, employees should understand managers' expectations, particularly in regard to how they want personnel to approach their jobs and how they plan to conduct discipline and performance evaluations.
The aura of crisis some managers attach to work efforts and communicate to their employees too frequently results from their failure to adequately plan. Devoting time to planning for their organization's operations and even for their own day will reduce the stress that they cause for their subordinates.
Times of great stress are, of course, dramatic ones for law enforcement employees. One of the important roles managers play during such periods is a safety valve safety valve, device attached to a boiler or other vessel for automatically relieving the pressure of steam before it becomes great enough to cause bursting. , an emotional outlet emotional outlet Any venue used to relieve psychologic stress–eg, strenuous exercise, vigorous sexual activity, video games, etc through which employees appropriately can vent their anger, fear, frustration, and concerns. At the same time, managers must successfully buffer subordinates from the stress produced by those higher in the chain of command, including elected and appointed officials outside the agency.
Personnel appreciate managers who communicate a direct interest in their performance and are involved in the activities of the organization. In law enforcement agencies, employees respect leaders who remember their roots, spend time on the street in spite of administrative demands, and support subordinates as they do their jobs. By its nature, contemporary law enforcement is a stressful profession, and that stress permeates the department. However, effective leadership practices can increase communication and reduce the tension attributed to the organization and its hierarchy. "Law enforcement leaders wanting to reduce the psychological stress caused by poor supervision and apathetic ap·a·thet·ic
Lacking interest or concern; indifferent.
apa·thet attitudes toward employees must be committed to making the workplace a 'worthplace'--where people care about people and where employee needs are emphasized and by developing a healthy environment that is perceived by the employees as a good place to work." (1)
In addition, knowing and focusing on employees--their strengths, weaknesses, career aspirations aspirations npl → aspiraciones fpl (= ambition); ambición f
aspirations npl (= hopes, ambition) → aspirations fpl , and families--can lead to effective workplace communication. Armed with that knowledge, managers can appropriately assign tasks and responsibilities and ensure that employees perceive their work as meaningful and valuable.
Sending Positive Messages
The law enforcement profession is, by its nature, a challenging experience. Officers and support personnel deal with people in their worst times of crisis, pain, and raw emotions. Managers must realize the importance of their support of subordinates, especially when the crisis impacts those personnel. Such a role, akin to that of a cheerleader, becomes particularly necessary when the negative issues occur within the organization itself, rather than as a byproduct by·prod·uct or by-prod·uct
1. Something produced in the making of something else.
2. A secondary result; a side effect.
Noun 1. of the work, and managers have to maintain the morale of the agency. Managers must maintain an outwardly out·ward·ly
1. On the outside or exterior; externally.
2. Toward the outside.
3. In regard to outward condition, conduct, or manifestation: outwardly a perfect gentleman. positive attitude, especially in the presence of their subordinates--for the health and mission of the organization, they cannot afford to be viewed as negative or against the administration.
Further, employees can frequently become pawns Pawn(s) may refer to:
It is, of course, important to acknowledge the seriousness of contemporary law enforcement and its critical social mission. At the same time, managers should recognize that such an intense environment still needs humor humor, according to ancient theory, any of four bodily fluids that determined man's health and temperament. Hippocrates postulated that an imbalance among the humors (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile) resulted in pain and disease, and that good health was and personality. This profession requires that its personnel, for their own mental health, should search for the positive side, accepting that the seriousness of job tasks can be alleviated. Managers who take their jobs and themselves too seriously risk damaging the emotional well-being of their personnel, as well as themselves.
Part of the maturation maturation /mat·u·ra·tion/ (mach-u-ra´shun)
1. the process of becoming mature.
2. attainment of emotional and intellectual maturity.
3. process for organizational leaders requires them to realize they must accept responsibility for their subordinates' actions, which are not always under the manager's direct control, as well as for their own. Absent criminal or ethical violations, it may be more appropriate for managers to accept some of the responsibility when subordinates fail to reach the desired accomplishment and then use the situation as a learning experience for all.
Focusing on the Employee
Effective job performance requires a balance of professional demands, family responsibilities, and personal issues. Failure to acknowledge and accept the relationship between each frequently can result in conflict, frustration, and anger that spill over Verb 1. spill over - overflow with a certain feeling; "The children bubbled over with joy"; "My boss was bubbling over with anger"
bubble over, overflow
seethe, boil - be in an agitated emotional state; "The customer was seething with anger"
2. all parts of a person's life. Performing effectively on the job entails simply learning to balance employment demands with life's other elements. For managers, this also means that they not only learn to apply such balance in their own lives but also accept it as a necessity for the healthy work and personal lives of their employees.
Managers also should work to develop those who serve in their organizations, helping them do their jobs more effectively and with fewer distractions through programs in stress and time management and personal finance, for instance. Such development results in an investment in the future of the agency through its people.
By the very nature of their chosen profession, with its high demands and heavy personal toll, law enforcement officers will continue to experience stress throughout their careers. The various methods managers use to administer assignments, evaluate performance, and handle responsibility can directly impact the amount of employee stress.
However, managers can effectively mitigate mit·i·gate
To moderate in force or intensity.
miti·gation n. some of these stressors frequently caused by organizational issues, poor leadership, and ineffective management. Managers who communicate with their personnel by acting as a safety valve, taking a direct interest in their performance, and focusing on their strengths and weaknesses can help eliminate tension. It is critical, then, that leaders and managers in law enforcement agencies recognize how they contribute to the stress of their employees and take aggressive steps to reduce their stress-causing practices.
(1) Richard M. Ayres, Preventing Law Enforcement Stress: The Organization's Role (Alexandria, VA: National Sheriffs' Association The National Sheriffs' Association (NSA) is a U.S. non-profit trade association dedicated to raising the level of professionalism among U.S.sheriffs, their deputies and others in the fields of criminal justice and public safety. , 1990), 33-35.
RELATED ARTICLE: Reducing Employee Stress 12 Tips for Managers
1. Ensure effective two-way communication Two-way communication is a form of transmission in which both parties involved transmit information. Common forms of two-way communication are:
2. Be fair and honest in communications with personnel and confirm that they understand your expectations.
3. Act as a safety valve to allow employees to vent and protect them from stress from others higher in the chain of command.
4. Be involved in employee assignments and available for guidance.
5. Project a positive attitude.
6. Lighten up Lighten up
Selling some part of a stock or bond position in a portfolio to realize capital gains or to losses or increase cash assets.
lighten up .
7. Accept the responsibility of both leadership and management.
8. Learn to balance home, office, and personal stress.
9. Foster a healthy working environment.
10. Learn to build and encourage employees' self-esteem.
11. Plan effectively.
12. Display organizational loyalty and maintain your own counsel.
RELATED ARTICLE: Leadership Books
1. James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Leadership Challenge, 3rd ed. (San Francisco San Francisco (săn frănsĭs`kō), city (1990 pop. 723,959), coextensive with San Francisco co., W Calif., on the tip of a peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay, which are connected by the strait known as the Golden , CA: Jossey-Bass, 2002).
2. Earl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe, Managing the Unexpected (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2001).
3. Jim Collins, Good to Great (New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , NY: Harper Business, 2001).
By JAMES D. SEWELL, Ph.D.
Dr. Sewell formerly served as assistant commissioner of the Florida Department Florida is a department (departamento) of Uruguay. Population and Demographics
As of the census of 2004, there were 68,181 people and 21,938 households in the department. The average household size was 3.1. For every 100 females, there were 100.4 males. of Law Enforcement.