Webinar presenter Dr. Rich Martin answered a number of your questions after his presentation, A Daily Drop of Corrosion: How the Daily Experiences of Justice Professionals Can Lead to Burnout. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: Since you’re speaking about burn out and the potential for suicide, can you talk about some of the ideas why the rate is higher for those in corrections versus other aspects of law enforcement?
Dr. Rich Martin: My primary expertise is more on law enforcement realm and I probably should take more time to explore that. I think if I had to speak more intuitively I think, the components that careercast.com used to rank the most stressful profession, that’s why it’s interesting that they only chose policing because you know the environment is one of the components that they took in consideration. In corrections, I mean they work the incarcerated every day they work, so the environment is stressful just for the fact that you’re, you’re limited in your movement. You can’t have cellphones, you can’t have internet connections, now all these things because of the population you’re working with, I think adding extra layers of stress to those operational stressors of the environment you’re working in. In my experience interacting with a lot of correction officers over the years primarily since I left law enforcement interestingly enough. I think there is a tendency not to look at corrections as a profession and a vocation. Predominantly, from what I’ve heard and seen, correction officers tend to view it as a job. And it truly disheartens a community to hear that because the complexities of dealing the populations of the corrections are dealing with, it is absolutely a profession and a vocation. And it’s becoming more complex every day. so I think the more we can transition to this idea of that it’s a vocation and a profession and not simply at a job, I think the more open correction officers maybe to realizing that you know, they are dealing with a lot of same issues that the policing profession deals with, in kind of going together with this idea of trying to improve mental health and those in profession.
Audience Question: Since you’ve mentioned correction officer burn out study, are you able to provide a link or a title for it so people might be able to look at themselves?
Dr. Rich Martin: Yes absolutely, I’ll send that to you Aaron and then you could post that.
Audience Question: How do we share the concept of spiritual bankruptcy with management? It seems to be discounted or receives lower priority frequently.
Dr. Rich Martin: It’s always the preference. I primarily teach leadership and when I teach leadership I get the same question. Okay, I believe what you are saying that we can develop leaders but how do we convince those above us? And I would think my initial idea is usually by showing them. It’s hard to argue with facts that are front and center in front of your face. So if you’re practicing these things and you can get those in your workroom to practice some of these self-help mechanisms and really pay attention to protecting the spirituality in developing resiliency. What you see is that there is an increase in morale in the unit, there’s an increase in performance, there’s increased commitment, all those things that management really wants to see. So when you get their attention by those things, those things that they cannot report to their higher-ups and say, “Hey look at the great things in my work group is doing, my team is doing.” Then you can step and kind of open a door and say, “This is why. We made these personal changes in our lives that if they go throughout their organization including the management and top leadership, we can all have a better organization and better life overall.” So, it is a tough sell and if they’re not open to it, you have to show them. And that is the unfortunate reality.
Audience Question: As a supervisor, how can I urge staff members to seek help or assistance without being pushy or demanding and actually creating additional stressors?
Dr. Rich Martin: This is directly tied with leadership, so I love this question because the biggest component in leadership is caring for people, right? John Maxwell the author that I referenced made in the webinar. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. And in the article that I had published in the law enforcement executive forum I actually speak to the importance of relationship as a key component of leadership and the more you establish that relationship based on trust and caring you know, a true caring for the people that are working under you, the more you are able to do that. because you approach it from the standpoint of I am worried about you. I don’t want you to go down this continuum. I want you to be healthy for the job and then when you go home at night or in the morning when you go home. And let’s stop arguing if there’s anybody ever approached me for something that they’re asking to benefit me, it’s hard to say no to that, so I will definitely focus on you know, and if you don’t have the level of relationship, focus on building that level of relationship whether there’s trust. I’m going to take a couple more minutes with this if you don’t mind because this one I think is important, so when I was in the army I had a chance to observe the way my infantry unit you know, here’s a bunch of 18 to 20 to 30-year-old grunts. The difference in the way we interact and the way the special forces unit interacted. We can never refer to anybody higher than us unless we refer to the rank first, so there’s is a sergeant and so and so. Lieutenant so and so. Special forces call everybody by their first name regardless of rank and I had the chance to reflect on that over the years. They built that level of trust in those relationships to the point where the rank is an understanding, so if somebody on a higher rank tells his subordinate to do something they’ll do it. But not because of the rank, it’s because of respect and that mutual understanding among themselves that we hadn’t gotten through as a straight infantry unit. So, if you look at leadership always trying to reach that pinnacle, that anytime you approach a subordinate for performance deficiency or something that is relative to their mental and spiritual health I think they are going to be much more open to it.
Audience Question: You describe the burn out trajectory as a downward one? Is it really possible to reboot and recover from burn out and return to becoming emotionally energized but what we do? Or are we simply delaying an inevitable state that is going to come sooner or later?
Dr. Rich Martin: Yes, I would say that this not an inevitable state and there are many people that have led great lives after retirement and they can attest to this. The reason I got interested in this topic is I was freshly removed from law enforcement, I just retired when I entered my doctoral program. As I progress through my doctoral program, I kind of focused on this idea of spirituality because I actually didn’t realize how much my spirit have kind of suffered during my career in law enforcement. And it was that don’t feel, don’t trust, don’t speak kind of mentality that I referred to in the presentation that creeps up on you. It’s not something that just kind of happens the next day you know. I’ve been talking about how we see almost immediate negative effects, but it’s really a prolonged long term kind of thing that occurs. But we can interject and that is the whole point of the presentation is that even if you’re at burnout you know, there might be in an extreme case you might have to take a leave of absence from the job and really re-establish your spiritual self. But even if your kind of into that burnout realm already, the resiliency factors that I talked about reversing that negativity, that toxicity that we’ve been experiencing for so many years. And again it really comes back to this all-important concept of finding a meaningful purpose in life and even if disillusioned as we become in law enforcement profession is about. Are we really making a difference? I have so much empathy for the men and women still out there because it has become so much more complex and complicated just in the 8 years I’ve been gone from the profession. This points to the importance of making sure you take care of your spiritual health, so getting re-grounded is kind of a way to think about it. Will you ever be that idealistic officer that graduated in the academy? Of course not. You shouldn’t be because there is a reality out there that you need to be aware of and cognitive of. We don’t want officers walking around blind thinking that, “No, the world is really good and I shouldn’t think that people are bad you know, and hey Mr. Bad guy with the knife you look like your you know shake my hand.” Bo, we don’t want that but you know, certainly not getting to that anger and cynicism point or even starting to backtrack. Once you kind of pull yourself you know, ground yourself more on spirituality and focus on the meaning in life. Let me take a step back just for a second, one of the dangers that’s why justice professionals are more susceptible to burn out is because not only we are dedicated to the profession but it becomes an intricate part of who we are and that can become very dangerous when you can ‘t separate that fact that I’m a cop, I’ll just say cop, obviously I’m you know not going to imply to anybody you know, corrections and everything. No matter what army uniform you’re working, or when I’m home with the kids, that’s an issue, we need to have that separation. Yes, law enforcement gets in your blood, its always going to be a part of who you are but you are somebody else outside of law enforcement. When you start to get more rooted and grounded in that, you could get back to the authenticity that I talked about, in terms of the one components of building resiliency and you get back to your core values and beliefs and you start infusing yourself more outside of work then you find your spirituality. You start feeling again because it is a safe environment to feel again and as you start involving your loved ones in your lives and bringing them in so that they can understand what you’re dealing with and they can help you through that. That helps you reground and reboot a little bit, to really know what is really important, the job will always be there, there is always going to be crimes, there is always going to be assholes out there that are going to you know, stab, murder or rape. We are not going to stop that but we’ll make a difference in a little bit of way that we can, we’ll make our lives count for something. To understand that the people who even might criticized us or sleeping sound in their bed at night because of what you are doing and that is your meaningful purpose at work and then outside of work you have a meaningful purposes for life you know whether it’s your children or whether it’s dedicating yourself to some of these non-profits are some great ways to get away from the job and get interaction with human beings, right who are in various states on chaos on their lives. All these little things will not prolong, it will actually reverse that and actually prevent you from ever getting to that point. Or if you’re there now or if you’re at burnout it can certainly help reverse that back. It is a process; it’s not going to be overnight and it takes conscious effort that you have to make time for and you have to be intentional about. Because if you’re not intentional that’s when you go down in that continuum because if you take down that road, unless you’re intentional about intervening, so I hope that answer your question.
Audience Question: If people want to reach out to you with additional questions would you like them to contact me and I’ll forward to you or what is your preference?
Dr. Rich Martin: Email is usually the best way, firstname.lastname@example.org
Audience Question: How do you approach the subject of burnout and needing a leave of absence with a supervisor that doesn’t get it, do you suggest reaching out to that supervisor or even going to HR?
Dr. Rich Martin: I think it depends, first of all, it depends on what the relationship is with your supervisor. If you have that supervisor that has that, doing well good established relationship with you that I talked about earlier. Certainly, there’s a resource for you and that is what every supervisor should be is to direct resource to its subordinates. If you have any kind of officers assistance program, that might be an avenue you can take so if you want to test the waters to see how open your department might be to that leave of absence, and if they’re resistive to it you might have to get help from an officer assistance program. If you don’t have an officers assistance program I think every organization is required to have an employee assistance program, I think that’s federal law, so if you’re not familiar with it your HR department can direct you to them and they can really be instrumental because now you got the backing of a psychology professional who can say look, if you want this person to be productive and you want them to be a good dependable member of your department, you need to give them time to regroup and kind of get the backing of that support because that’s what they are for.
Click Here to Watch a Recording of A Daily Drop of Corrosion: How the Daily Experiences of Justice Professionals Can Lead to Burnout.