When it comes to police officers leaving the job due to injury, the organisation’s strength can create a challenge.
About the author: Mick Ingram, Police and Emergency Services Strategy Consultant, EML
Mick is an allied health and management professional. For nearly 12 years he worked at the NSW Police Force leading the Injury Management team and innovating their approach to injury management and recovery. Mick has driven evidence-based recovery models that have led to significant improvements for injured Police Officers. Now at EML, Mick is applying his skills to programs that put the customer at the centre of service delivery and help them get their lives back after injury.
For most police officers, being an officer is much more than just a job. Law enforcement is a career entwined with a sense of purpose and identity. The nature of the work undertaken, teamwork requirements, shared experiences and culture is unique and is at the core of what officers refer to as ‘the police family’.
These qualities of a police force career are good and deserve to be celebrated and promoted. But what happens when an officer sustains an injury that prevents them from being able to continue in the career they hold so dear? When losing that career is like losing their identity? When they wrestle with a lack of purpose?
These are the challenges I have been exploring recently. I have been fortunate to have the opportunity look for solutions, with the goal of improving the experience of career transition following medical discharge for injured police officers.
Easy for some, not so easy for others
It has been said that those who answer the vocational call to law enforcement face their most difficult challenge at the end of their careers when they must retire from the ‘thin blue line’. For some, this is correct. While for others, the transition is only a minor bump in a long and winding road. What causes the difference?
Specific to policing there is limited literature on medical discharge and career transition. Much more research has been done on this topic among defence forces. Internationally, defence forces are transitioning medically discharged employees into new careers on an enormous scale, and experience similar challenges.
There are similarities between defence and emergency services: purpose, identity, and rank among others. But there are also distinctive differences: deployment away from home, training, nature of work, reason for transition, compensation schemes and more.
I am confident in saying that in both military and first responder organisations there are people who identify strongly with the role and organization. This strength can also be a curse. These people have higher expectations of how they should be treated when the time comes that they must leave. And can often experience worse outcomes when these expectations are not met. On the other hand, those people who see policing or the defence as ‘just a job’ are more likely to fare better.
Making transition easier
Unfortunately, it is reality that there will always be a need for some officers to leave the organisation due to injury. In the cohort we are working with at EML, 68% are aged between 30-50 meaning they have lots of life to live and plenty of time to establish a new purpose and direction.
There are multiple stakeholders able to influence the transition experience. Policing organisations, unions, insurers, claims managers, treatment providers, community groups, families and friends.
Some of the common factors that influence and officer’s experience of transition can include:
- Level of control over the decision to leave the organisation
- Recognition of service and support throughout transition from their organisation
- Financial security
- Access to easily understood information regarding transition for officers, treaters and families
- A feeling of hope for the future
- Confidence in the ability to secure alternate meaningful employment
- Tailored service offerings that meet the transition needs of officers across a broad spectrum
- Trust in those offering support
- Treatment that addresses the loss of identity and other challenges associated with transition
Now that we have a better understanding of the challenges, we must sharpen focus on the development and implementation of solutions to make a difference.
If you or anyone you know is facing mental health issues, contact:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14 for immediate assistance or
- Speak to your doctor or your staff support service - Employee Assistance Program (EAP)