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Middle Management Stress

Written by Robert Roy Johnson

Stress is the law enforcement officer’s constant companion. Most departments have procedures in place to effectively manage stress within the workforce. Much of this responsibility falls to the sergeants. As a result, though, the stress experienced by these middle managers themselves is often overlooked.

Middle managers are no longer responsible for only themselves. They are responsible for each and every police officer that they supervise as well. This is stress compounded with the stress typical to any police officer’s experience. For upper management, the stressed out supervisor can adversely impact officers and department goals. Consequently, chiefs, deputy chiefs, and captains must recognize and address the two sources of stress in their supervisors.

First, inherent to the sergeant’s rank, there is stress over that which upper management has no control. For instance, as noted, responsibility for others is a stressor. Now, upper management cannot be expected to remove responsibility as a stressor. However, chiefs and captains can mitigate the impact of stress. They must be accessible to their line supervisors. Call those sergeants in for a chat. By all means, offer advice. Remember, while in most relationships unsolicited advice is frowned upon, as a top level supervisor, you are obliged to advise. Be familiar with and direct the supervisor to stress management programs.

As well, chiefs and captains should research stress reduction techniques on their own. There is a wealth of information on the Internet. You do not have to be a professional to recommend well known methods for stress reduction, such as exercise or meditation. Know your people. What might work for one sergeant might not necessarily be appropriate for another. And, while your suggestions may go unheeded, just knowing the captain or chief cares enough to offer input might alleviate some of that stress.

Hone those listening skills as well. Provide the opportunity for a sergeant to unburden to a higher ranking officer. An upper management supervisor should be able to commiserate with a middle manager. After all, they have been there. The captain can share experiences, or, at the very least, empathize and sympathize. The chief is in a position to offer succor and encouragement. A kind word after a healthy venting can go a long way towards easing stress. And then there is stress that derives directly from the top. Chiefs and captains must be mindful of the stress they themselves create for their supervisors through management decisions. Everything must be done to eliminate or, at the very least, reduce the stressful impact of policy.

For instance, work overload due to staff shortages is often cited as a great source of stress for law enforcement middle managers. If possible, make sure there are enough supervisors. Failure to promote in a timely fashion puts an undue burden on a supervisor. Supervisors who take the responsibility seriously to care for the physical and emotional well-being of their subordinates are bound to suffer stress if they are spread too thin to be effective.

Granted, it is not always within upper management’s authority to promote. However, this issue can still be addressed. At times when the supervisory ranks are sparse, upper management can pitch in and help out. Chiefs and captains would be wise to delve into middle management responsibilities from time to time. Not only will this reduce the stress for the overworked sergeants, but it will also facilitate closer relations between upper management and the work force. It is vital to effective management to remember where we came from. Reducing stress in supervisors while connecting with the rank and file is win/win.

Furthermore, upper management must be mindful of how their supervisory style contributes to stress among their middle managers. Yes, you are the boss. And at times, only an authoritarian manner will do. But an overbearing, autocratic style, as a matter of course, may be counterproductive. If you stress your line supervisors, this impacts the entire work force. Ease up. Empower. As stress diminishes, production will increase.

Finally, do not forget, as upper management, you are just as susceptible to stress. To attend to the needs of your people, you must take care of yourself first. Follow your own advice and avail yourselves of those stress reduction techniques you have recommended to your supervisors.

Robert Roy Johnson is a 33-year veteran of the Chicago Police Department, currently at the rank of Captain. He may be reached via email at robroyj@sbcglobal.net.

Published in Law and Order, Oct 2005

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