Police officers claim high stress levels, understaffing and overwork, says survey

High stress, longer hours, and less people to take on more tasks. These are the factors that, according to a major study conducted by Ottawa's Carleton University, are contributing to Canadian police officers feeling over-worked, understaffed, and stressed out.

The study on officer wellness is believed to be the first of its kind in the country, says a report by Postmedia News. Linda Duxbury, a professor and work-life balance authority at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, and her research partner Christopher Higgins, a professor at Western University's Richard Ivey School of Business, collected survey data from 4,500 officers across 25 police agencies.

The authors concluded that Canadian police officers are "stressed-out and stretched thin like never before — facing long hours, constantly changing shifts, understaffing, more complex caseloads and a lack of career-development opportunities, as well as growing family pressures at home".

As a result, said the study, police agencies likely will see "greater absenteeism, more long-term disability and benefits payouts, and more difficulties attracting and retaining officers if they ignore these work-life balance issues".

"I'm afraid a lot of the young people won't stay," Duxbury told Postmedia News, adding that management can no longer just expect the officers to "suck it up" and carry on.

Though she admitted employees in other professions also deal with lots of stress, "police perform work that is often life-and-death and requires split-second decision making," she said. "High stress in this profession as such is potentially more catastrophic in its consequences."

The study's findings served as a "wake-up call" to Carol Allison-Burra, president of the Canadian Association of Police Boards.

She told Postmedia News that police boards have traditionally focused on economic sustainability within the force, but that human resource issues also need to be addressed.

"This is a report that shouldn't sit unread nor unimplemented," she said, adding that she believed the boards could influence police chiefs and managers to create a more supportive, transparent environment.

Of those surveyed, 75 per cent were male officers between the ages of 30 and 45. Most reported that they were married and had families at home. Around two-thirds claimed to be caring for one or more elderly dependents, while half came from dual-income households.

While two-thirds of the survey respondents said they were satisfied with their jobs — particularly when it came to salary and job security, 50 per cent reported high stress levels, while 46 per cent noted moderate stress levels and two-thirds admitted to missing around 14 days of work each year, mainly due to health problems or burnout.

Click here for a more comprehensive report on the study's findings.