The Importance of Morale

Scott Nicholas
Scott Nicholas
Vice President

The best morale exists when you never hear the word mentioned. When you hear a lot of talk about it, it’s usually lousy! — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Emotional survival for law enforcement these days goes far beyond the paycheck, time off or other benefits in your CBA. The ability to survive emotionally in a career that in the last few years has been destroyed by the national media and has our brothers and sisters being executed in the streets is difficult, to say the least.

Our officers are told on a daily basis that they are scum, racists, murderers, thieves, etc. Some people wonder how an officer can put on the uniform with so much hate in the world, not just in society but toward the uniform itself.

Many people forget that we are human, and many think nothing ever bothers us because we get paid to do the job without ever showing any emotions. A supervisor recently remarked, “How much money did you make last year? … Boy!” My answer is, “Who cares?” That question tells me this person has no idea how to be a good supervisor.

Ask yourself this question: Does your leadership motivate you, or kill your morale? If you have a sergeant, lieutenant, captain or chief who doesn’t see the importance of high morale, they will never succeed in generating anything more than malicious compliance. It takes a strong leader to recognize the importance of their employees’ morale, and an even better leader to know when it needs to be fixed.

Trusting your employees is one of the first steps in creating better morale in the workplace. Our officers go through some of the highest-stress situations imaginable. When officers experience both physical and psychological stresses every day, knowing their chain of command trusts them is extremely important to their success.

Low trust of our employees is brought to my attention weekly. Officers being followed by their supervisors and videotaped from the bushes as they eat their lunch, or a chief issuing an order limiting the size of the bag you bring in to work (down to the inches), shows a complete lack of trust to the entire division.

Assuming the worst of your employees and then looking (fishing) for a reason to discipline them will get you the minimum output from them. Employees who are trusted will be much better members of the organization, and will be more willing to do some of the more unpleasant tasks when they are shown trust from their division leaders.

I believe that supervisors with high moral principles foster higher staff morale!

Morale can be raised almost instantaneously if given the right set of circumstances. Morale can also be lowered in the same amount of time if directives and orders are issued without consideration to how they will affect morale. Morale is something that can change several times a day, depending on the circumstances surrounding the employee.

Officers have described one emotion as “hitting a wall” when they arrive to work, mostly because they fear the unknown or the “What’s next” mentality from their supervisors. Several supervisors have recently said they share the same feelings the officers have. Some have said there is a lack of respect from their division leader. Some say they are being “bullied.” Most have said they just want to leave the Department, because their ideas are dismissed with a “Do as I say” attitude.

Have you heard about Henderson P.D. looking for ways to improve morale and overall job performance? Henderson P.D. is allowing officers to catch some shut-eye to recharge. Our officer gets accused of falling asleep and gets an eight-hour suspension, instead of a gentle nudge to say “Let’s go!” Meanwhile, our officers at the jail are losing cell phones and lunchboxes to improve officer safety, but then are told the inmates will be trusted with coffeepots and microwave ovens.

Here are a few quotes that the chief wrote to DSD everyone:

  • “In fact, there is a PPA representative who loves to tell me morale is the lowest he’s seen it in his career, yet he’s made that same statement year after year after year. My take on morale is simple, it’s a personal issue.” (This tells me there is no ownership or leadership where morale is concerned. By the way, that’s not what you said three years ago when interviewed by internal affairs.)
  • “Again, morale is a personal decision.” (Same as above.)
  • “What you will find is increased security for everyone’s safety.” (Coffeepots and microwaves for the inmates is increased security and safety?)
  • “I never want to explain to anyone’s family why I allowed a poor security practice to continue.” (But I am issuing coffeepots and microwave ovens to the inmates? Really?)
  • “We must never forget, our facilities hold the worst of the worst in our community.” (So, for security reasons, we are issuing coffeepots and microwaves to the inmates!)
  • “I don’t fear the ‘low morale’ issue or not being ‘liked’ as most of you know.” (Pretty clear to me, and yes! We know. For the record, I do, Chief!)

If you are looking to improve morale, you have to identify what the problems are by listening to the people you supervise. If you don’t think there is a problem, then maybe you have been in supervision too long and need to make a change. No one is being held hostage.

Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Show sincere appreciation for the work your employees do! Don’t bring money into the conversation unless you want them to do the same.
  2. Involvement: Be involved with your employees, both personally and professionally. Telling employees you can’t be friends with them is your own fear that it’s beyond your ability to separate the two! The Sheriff can do it, so why can’t you?
  3. Loyalty to your employees: Show some loyalty and it will be returned threefold. Loyalty doesn’t mean you can’t be an effective leader or even discipline (tactfully) when necessary.
  4. Good working conditions: You can’t take, take, take from your employees, showing lack of trust while at the very same moment giving the trust to the incarcerated. (Incentives? Where are the officers’ incentives?)
  5. Make work fun again. Some of the creative videos produced by Sergeant Williams were a huge hit. People “caught in the act” was fun! Officers were smiling! Even the A/S got involved.
  6. Give the employee the benefit of the doubt, not the usual “guilty until proven innocent.”
  7. Be understanding. Forcing someone on leave without pay because they overslept makes you look like a tyrant, not a supervisor. Put yourself in the officers’ shoes, and remember where you came from.
  8. Show compassion. We are taught as officers to show compassion for criminals, but then many times we do not receive any compassion from our chain of command. We are human beings, and we make mistakes.

In closing, I want to be clear that I love my job! I love working for this Department, like all of you. I truly appreciate the pay and benefits I receive. I look forward to the retirement pay this job will provide. I really do think we have the best Department in the nation. I also want everyone to know that I am human, and I work much harder when given a sincere pat on the back. I’m sure many of you feel the same way.

Be safe, and thank you for your membership!