Police jobs lack work-life balance

Canadian police officers are well-paid but have significant stress and health problems because of work demands and have little in the way of work-life balance, according to national study unveiled Tuesday.

The survey of 4,500 police officers from 25 police forces found while the work culture for police involves shift-work, long hours and attention to the job even in off hours, many younger police officers want to seek some balance between their jobs and their families.

Carleton University's Linda Duxbury, who along with the University of Western Ontario's Christopher Higgins produced the study, said that balance doesn't exist.

"The culture of policing is not work and family, it's work or family," said Duxbury.

Work more likely to interfere with family

"I have hardly ever seen a job that had more imbalance than police officers," she said. "The real problem for police officers is the job is all-consuming. Even if they are home, mentally they are still at work in many cases."

The study found that work was more than twice as likely to interfere with home life than the reverse, with 43 per cent of respondents reporting high levels of work interference in their family lives.

The typical officer works 53.5 hours a week and is well-paid, said Duxbury, with only nine per cent of respondents earning less than $80,000. Most of police surveyed were in Ontario, the Prairies and British Columbia.

Duxbury said without some effort to make the job more attractive to younger workers, police forces across the country may have problems replacing baby boomers when they retire.

Younger officers strive for balance with family

Duxbury said while many older police officers, including those in senior positions, see the work-first philosophy as part of the job, many younger officers still strive to be more involved in their family life.

Most of the police officers surveyed were married, and about two-thirds of married officers had a partner who was also a highly educated manager or professional. This leads to conflict, said Duxbury, because police culture does not support the dual-career family model.

She said officers with children are forgoing chances of promotion to more glamorous positions — as Major Crimes investigators, for example — because of a desire to spend time with their family.

Women officers, who made up 25 per cent of the 4,500 respondents, were more likely than men to be single or divorced, regardless of rank.

High to moderate levels of stress reported

The study also found there were health consequences to the police work lifestyle, including:

- Half the officers reported high levels of stress and another 46 per cent reporting moderate stress. Only four per cent reported low levels of stress.

- One in five said they were in poor health, a result the authors said was surprising given 83 per cent of respondents were 45 and under.

- About two-thirds of police officers missed at least 14 days of work a year.

Duxbury said the report is a wake-up call to police organizations that some change is needed to adapt to the changing face of their workforce.

Ottawa police chief Charles Bordeleau said the findings were no surprise in his workplace.

"It's important we understand what kind of stresses our workers are going through so we can have the right strategies to be able to proactively combat those and respond to them," said Bordeleau.

The Winnipeg Police Service employs a behavioural health unit because it recognizes the tough job officers face, said Const. Jason Michalyshen, a spokesman for the force.

"The emotional toll and the psychological toll this job can have on police officers throughout their career requires a lot of support within the service, and certainly a lot of support with family and friends and so forth," he said.