Policing through a pandemic - the impact of technology on wellbeing

Published 1 Sep 2020
Written by
Oscar Kilo
National Police Wellbeing Service
Reading time
10 mins

A round up of this international webinar including the panel discussions, the questions asked by delegates and identifying the themes and key points of learning. And a link to watch the webinar.

This webinar was held in August 2020 and was co-designed with our speakers, representatives from frontline policing and the tech industry.

So what did we learn?

The first panel: How can technology help police wellbeing, what we know so far, what are the enablers that technology presents us with?

We know tech can be an organisational stressor, even without a major pandemic, and what Covid really showed up was that maybe we have focussed a lot on operational technology and possibly not enough on the tech that connects us as workforce, that allows us to be more agile and flexible 

Tech has allowed us in many cases to strip out a lot of the ‘non-value’ work therefore letting us focus on the tasks that need to be done and we need to be able to sustain that and not snap back to our old ways. 

This is about how attractive we are as an employer as well, people want to be able to access the sorts of technology they have access to in their daily lives to help them get their jobs done effectively.

In Australia, although they have faced a lot of the same issues, their data shows them that a third of people will say that tech is actually a hindrance in their jobs and that you have a big divide between ‘digital immigrants’ and ‘digital natives’

The ‘digital natives’ being the group that are really comfortable with tech in their everyday lives, who may have even grown up with it as the norm, versus the ‘digital immigrants’ who are the group for whom these ‘advances’ don’t come naturally or as comfortably. 

This raises the following key points as key considerations when introducing or socialising technology in your organisation.

  • Accessibility – how easy are these things to not only access but adopt for a variety of abilities
  • Personalised support – how can you best use the opportunity that tech presents us with to personalise support
  • Good training – having appropriate support in place to guide people through
  • Communication – does everyone understand what it’s for, how to use it, what benefits it has for them, and are there open channels of communication for when there are issues.

Our survey conducted prior to the event reflects that with feedback being that technology can only improve wellbeing with certain conditions – you can read more about the survey results here.

Julian David, CEO of Tech UK told us that lots of the various technologies we are using, the algorithms used are not often designed around people, they are not designed with social empathy and inherent bias in mind. We’re expecting lots of people just to get on and adapt with it and quite possibly, the Tech industry thinks it’s done a better job than it has – tech is not as intuitive as some companies would profess it is which is why all of the above are so important.

If you don’t move ahead with that and with the appropriate training – there is no short cut, you have to understand the people who are using the technology and make it accessible to them.

An example of this would be the Backup Buddy app which is really simple and its simplicity is really its strength. It can be accessed from any mobile device and in a culture where there is stigma, this is about providing officers and staff a place to go in their own time. It features people from within their communities telling their stories which really helps people to relate.

Tech provides us with a great opportunity for communication, access to communities, groups, places of connection is really important.

Questions and answers

The Q and A session brought up some really interesting points around supporting officers and staff with technology, enabling working from home, and making things accessible for those who aren’t in work every day.

The main points that came through here were.

  • Accessibility / visibility of leaders.
  • But not everything needs to be online – that element of social contact is still really important in a safe way so we need to look to hybrid options to maintain some of that.
  • Leadership – leaders need to be visible and accessible, and you’ve got to put more effort into that. However, that can then be quite demanding for those leaders so they then need to make sure they are looking after themselves. 

There is a risk of the ‘always on’ culture – some people can cope with that, others can’t. You have to be very mindful of that and make some ground rules to suit yourself. Create your own patterns. It’s not good for your mental health to allow yourself to be switched on to work all the time so you have to identify it and take control.

A further interesting point was raised around getting information out to officers remotely in an effective way. Officers don’t always get the time to read through reams of guidance, watch long webinars – you have to get short sharp info through to people who are limited with their time.

You have to be able to boil down what they need and get it out to them. Speak in bullet points.

In our second panel discussion, we discussed how we can stay well in pandemic times – focusing on wellbeing in action.

Dr Katy Kamkar from Canada was able to give us a great introduction and insight from a psychological perspective.

She talked about the various proactive strategies that we need to adopt and have been well documented. Focusing on the key workplace protective factors.

The first are she focused on was building compassion satisfaction – having contentment from being able to do your work and help others. Avoiding compassion fatigue by focusing on the meaning of your work and the positives. How helping others helps you to maintain your own growth and being proud of your accomplishments and your input, irrespective of the outcome.

The second area is professional worth – your work is being valued and recognised and appreciated – she acknowledged the need here for this to be a strong focus at an organisational level to ensure that recognition is a regular feature.

The third area is self-compassion – this is what has been found to buffer against burnout and compassion fatigue. There are three main categories within this:

  • mindfulness – recognising a range of emotions and not to be afraid of them and being able to put them into perspective
  • self-kindness – this can help to reduce the tendency to engage in self-judgement
  • sense of humanity – accepting that you are not perfect – you do make mistakes – you are human and that comes with imperfection

She also mentioned psychological flexibility as a protective factor – this is when we build goals and expectation but we can revise these when circumstances change – this again also reduces our tendency to engage in negative self-evaluation and 

Coping flexibility – the ability to engage in coping strategies that work depending on the circumstances. Sometimes avoidance strategy works, sometimes approach strategy works – needs to be a mix of both. 

The discussion then flowed through with Jeff Thompson PHD of the New York Police Department sharing his knowledge and expertise around resilience.

Jeff told us that resilience is something everyone deserves and deserves to be supported with by their organisation.

The most important thing being that any interventions are science backed and evidence-based and, particularly through covid, everything has to be supported by clear and regular communication.

Webinars, books, workshops don’t build resilience on their own, you build resilience by doing – you actually have to practice it and build it over time. 

Self-compassion is very important – People are starting to realise that this is key and that we have to make time to focus on the good if we’re dealing with all this bad stuff every day in our jobs.

A really great way we have found for people to build resilience has been finding purpose in your daily work. Take a moment to stop and pause and think about one good thing you did and then, one thing that someone did good for you – you’re making stronger neural networks in your brain when you do this. 

When you build these networks – it makes you better able to handle the bad stuff. This is where the organisation needs to embrace these things and make them department / organisation wide and encourage people to take part.

Back to the UK and Chief Inspector Hector McKoy from the City of London Police gave us his view on dealing with the pandemic from a leadership perspective.

He told us that one of the key things he has learned has been that your staff need to know that they are looked after and listened to. 

Health and safety aspects were really important on a fundamental level that people felt like they were safe at work and being cared for at work, for example, making sure that sanitisers, PPE were readily available.

But it’s more than the tick box health and safety, it about talking to your staff, listening to and understanding their concerns that come from both work and home. He listed the really important things for him have been:

  • valuing your staff – during the pandemic it has been even more crucial.
  • asking the staff what works for them – then as a leader making those decisions to best suit his staff
  • communication – really important from leaders – visible leadership but whilst practicing what you preach in terms of advice on coming into work etc.
  • encouraging staff to look out for and look after each other and keeping conversations open.

From an organisational view, CC Andy Rhodes talked about how critical it is that you establish a degree of trust as an organisation so that when a crisis happens, you’ve already got an established relationship – your interventions, offers of support etc are authentic – otherwise people will just see through it. 

A whole organisational approach is key to this and what we are seeing, and this is also evident from the conversation thread from today’s event  is that if you haven’t gone into this pandemic already in a good place with wellbeing, then you’re going to have found yourself playing catch up in a crisis situation.

What you are looking for here is the ‘Holy trinity’ of:

  • workforce insight, leaders who can engage, diagnostics that can pick up what the frontline are feeling
  • research
  • genuine commitment to wellbeing from executive leadership

It’s clear that our staff are going above and beyond – absence levels across UK policing have been really low, people are staying at work and continuing to work in difficult circumstances and so it’s critical that they see that their wellbeing is a genuine concern from their leader and their organisations.

Questions and answers

During the Q and A session for the second panel, questions were asked around support for specials / volunteers, having the right people in the right jobs for wellbeing and support for families.

The panel were able to share with us some of the things that they have done. Chief Inspector Hector McKoy from the City of London Police explained how all of his teams, including specials and volunteers have all been keeping in touch using group text messaging which has worked well. He also talked about how being proactive as a manager with your communications and keeping in touch with Specials and Volunteers as a matter of course, including them in all communications as he did with the regular officers and staff worked really well..

On the point around getting the right people in the organisation who actually acre about people, Jeff Thompson from the NYPD gave a really clear response which was that you have to create a culture of genuine care. You also have to acknowledge the fact that there are people who don’t care and those who do not support wellbeing at work and in that case you have to make it clear that that sort of behaviour is not welcome in your organisation and offer them the opportunity and chance to educate themselves in this area and improve. 

You have to make sure that those people don’t make up the majority of your leaders within your organisation – Jeff’s advice is to look at it like a math formula – make sure there’s more of ‘us’ and less of ‘them’ 

On the note around support for families, it was raised by a delegate on the call from the Israeli police that they established a helpline for families for them to come to the organisation directly if they need help – this helped to take a load off the officers on having to do that themselves so they could concentrate on their roles in keeping their communities safe knowing that their families had support if they needed it.

Overall, it was a fantastic session and we’d like to thank everyone who joined us and contributed and we hope you learned from it.

Access a recording of the webinar

Watch recording