Safer police, safer communities

B.C., Federal Serious and Organized Crime

2023-02-07 09:30 PST

The BC RCMP Federal Policing Wellness unit is taking an innovative approach to looking after the health and wellbeing of employees.

Although serving as a police officer can be one of the most rewarding personal and professional endeavours, studies suggest that the job’s associated operational and organizational stressors can take their toll on the well-being of officers, and the civilian staff who serve alongside them. Research suggests, repeated exposure to traumatic and high-risk situations that create sustained and elevated levels of stress, often coupled with fatigue, grief, and moral injury, can leave officers with an increased risk of developing Operational Stress Injuries (OSI), particularly depression, anxiety, burnout, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). According to a recent study, unsworn civilian personnel working in policing organizations are also significantly more likely to suffer from depression, and experience high levels of psychological distress, despite their less frequent exposure to critical incidents.

In addition to being well aware of the policing-related stressors officers and civilian personnel face, members of the BC RCMP Federal Wellness unit, Cpl. Jessica Maclean, Cst. Lisa Shaw, and Aimee Vardouniotis, also realize that achieving personal wellness requires a holistic and multi-dimensional approach that must incorporate a variety of components, including, a person’s psychological, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual well-being.

With this in mind, Jessica, Lisa, and Aimee take a proactive approach to looking after employee wellness through a variety of means that include conducting wellness-walks, where the trio walk through the maze of hundreds of cubicles sprawled across each floor, and take time to interact with every person at each desk. They always come bearing big smiles, kind words, and information about their next planned wellness events. They also have a keen eye for things that may enhance the employees’ working environment, and often offer comfort-enhancing products such as a more ergonomic computer mouse, larger screen monitors, standing desks, or upgraded office chairs.

From left to right, Aimee, Jessica, and Lisa standing in front of the BC RCMP headquarters 

The Wellness unit’s office is strategically located at the floor’s entrance, with lots of tasty treats by the door that could entice one to wander into the cozy office for a casual chat. Despite ongoing messaging from police managers and internal mental health programs encouraging employees to seek available treatment, many employees remain hesitant to report, or seek psychological treatment due to the associated stigma. Therefore, the Wellness unit approaches the subject matter in an open manner, and encourages all employees to reach out to them in a variety of ways, while ensuring confidentiality, and unfettered access to their members. The Wellness team is always available for the initial call when a peer, or family member is in need of support for anything, and they have a vast network of resources that can be quickly offered to individuals in need. Jessica is trained in mental health, trauma, labour law, and has been working in the policing world for over 25 years. Lisa and Aimee are also well-equipped with a wealth of related knowledge and experience, that contribute to the team’s high degree of effectiveness in looking after the wellbeing of employees. The Wellness team also works with individuals to assist them in seamlessly transitioning back to work, having helped 98% of employees re-engage into their home units after returning from medical leave. Since last year, the team has also responded to, and assisted over 2000 employees who sought help for a variety of wellness issues, ranging from basic benefits inquiries and family related challenges, to suicide prevention.

As a yoga enthusiast, Jessica leads weekly yoga session, and the team has set up office restorative rooms, for anyone in need of some R&R after those especially demanding days. Jessica has also been involved in numerous inclusion advocacy activates, and recently received the Commanding Officer’s Commendation for her role in the development of the updated Federal Government’s Young Women in Public Safety program, tailored for high school female students, aimed at building awareness of the range of careers available in the public safety and security fields.

But the Wellness team’s core effectiveness arguably lies in their unconventional educational approach that aims at fostering a culture of compassionate leadership, with employee wellness at its forefront. In doing so, the Wellness team is approaching this by systematically training and educating supervisors and managers on best wellness practices, since much of the work-related trauma experienced by personnel can be linked to internal organizational stressors.

Although operational stress injuries resulting from operational policing activities and trauma are well understood, a fresh body of evidence suggests that organizational stressors also significantly increase the risk of developing OSI. These stressors that can come from a lack of management support, discrimination, incessant public scrutiny, poor leadership, insufficient resources, and negative relationships with colleagues, can be as psychologically hazardous as critical incidents in the field. With leadership style being at the heart of the matter, studies have identified a number of leadership characteristic that can contribute to the wellness, and overall job satisfaction of police officers. In summary, leaders should take care of their people, integrate them into the organization, and promote their wellbeing. Correspondingly, a study of positive attributes of effective leadership attributes collected from 17,000 respondents in 62 countries revealed that employees wanted their leaders to be problem solvers, possess administrative skills, have foresight, and work towards building the confidence and competence of their followers.

Studies of police management approaches have identified three general dimensions of leadership styles categorized as transformational, transactional, and laissez-faire leadership. Transformational leadership can be described as a leading by example management style that encourages, inspires, and motivates employees to innovate and create the change necessary for organizational success. These leaders exude authenticity, promote the corporate culture, and emphasize the employees’ role as responsible stewards and owners of the organization, while encouraging autonomy and independence in the workplace. Transactional leadership focuses on supervision, organization, and performance. This management style is most prominent in the military, police, and large corporations, as it relies on a multi-layered hierarchy, command and control, and bureaucratic practices. Laissez-faire leadership emphasizes trusting and relying on employees, avoids micromanagement, and provides minimal employee direction and guidance. Out of the three general management styles, most police officers seem to overwhelmingly favour the transformational leadership style.

In line with these findings, the BC RCMP Federal Policing program’s executives and management team are highly supportive of the Federal Wellness program, as it is also consistent with the RCMP Vision150 modernization framework that encourages proactive and innovative approaches to ensuring employee wellness. Senior managers also regularly seek the Wellness unit’s input and feedback during their decision-making processes, especially while implementing any change management initiatives, in order to ensure employee wellness throughout the process.

Being committed to, and responsible for keeping Canadians safe from the most serious criminal threats is an immense responsibility felt by every member of the BC RCMP Federal Policing program; and the sacrifices made while delivering on this promise can prove detrimental to the health and overall wellbeing of the dedicated individuals serving within the RCMP. This is why the members of our Wellness unit take a proactive, and multidimensional approach to taking care of the ones who look after the safety of our communities, said Superintendent. Anick Pasqua, Officer in Charge of the BC RCMP Federal Serious and Organized Crime-Operational Support program (FSOC-OSG).

Considering these factors, Jessica, Lisa, and Aimee take an informative and preventative approach to employee wellness, and are striving to create a lasting wellness culture within the organization. Small, incremental improvements can lead to major long-term progress, and if you are looking to introduce wellness initiatives that improve the culture and psychological safety of your workplace, the Wellness unit encourages you to reach out to them for support in planning your police wellness program.

 

Released by

Cpl. Arash Seyed
Media Relations Officer
Federal Serious & Organized Crime (FSOC)
14200 Green Timbers Way, Surrey, B.C. V3T 6P3
Office: 778-290-4724
Fax: 778-290-6092

Email: bcfederalpolicing_media@rcmp-grc.gc.ca

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