The majority of RCMP members who responded to a survey during the pandemic reported experiencing high levels of job stress affecting their home life.
The findings were published by Prof. Linda Duxbury and Sean Campeau of Carleton University's Sprott School of Business in partnership with the National Police Federation — the RCMP's union — to identify the main stress factors facing RCMP officers in the second wave of the pandemic.
According to the survey, which was sent out between October and December 2020 and released on Thursday, 76 per cent of the police officers who responded to the survey reported high levels of job stress.
"Our analysis indicates that the key workplace stressors experienced by RCMP officers working in frontline positions in Canada at this time have less to do with the job itself and more to do with the organizational culture of the RCMP, with resourcing decisions, and by the political landscape surrounding the job of police officer in North America at this time," the report said.
The report found that the job puts heavy pressure on officers' personal lives; close to three quarters of respondents cited work interference with family life as a source of high levels of stress.
"The levels of job stress, work role overload, how work interferes with family, perceived stress, and work-related burnout observed in this sample are not, in our opinion, sustainable over time — particularly when one considers that many police officers lack the appropriate coping resources to deal with this strain in healthy ways," the authors concluded.
National Police Federation President Brian Sauvé said many members police in rural communities where it's hard for officers to draw a clear line between work and home.
"In smaller communities, everybody knows where you live. So are you ever really off duty?" he said. "Or if there is a challenge with, for example, a barking dog or a stolen car, do they go to a detachment or do they just come knock on your door?
"Are you ever allowed to decompress completely without leaving the community?"
Respondents also cited resourcing decisions — not enough officers to do the work required, the amount of time officers are required to spend on administrative work — and the fear of being verbally or physically assaulted by a member of the public as sources of workplace anxiety.
Forty-five per cent of respondents reported high levels of stress because of what the report called "toxic conditions" — a perception that the RCMP's workplace culture makes it hard for them to seek help or to refuse extra work.
Mounties reacting to 'negative news'
Another stress factor cited in the report is a perception of how the police are being portrayed in the media and fear of backlash.
Just under half of the officers in the sample reported that the public debate about "defunding" police, coupled with public protests against police services, are stressful.
The report also said male officers without children in the sample were more likely than any other group to report that they often experience stress due to "negative news."
"The officers in this group are younger and work in frontline positions within the RCMP. The stressors data suggest that this group of officers are more likely to work in frontline positions and interact with the public on a regular basis," says the report.
The survey was released as the union has been calling on the next federal government to increase access to mental health supports for RCMP members and increase training capacity at the depot in Regina.
"Our members have for several years been forced to make up for significant funding cuts and shortfalls, and they continue to be asked to provide services beyond crime prevention and law enforcement, which is unsustainable," Sauvé said.
The report is part of a broader survey of more than 22,000 workers from different sectors across Canada. More responses are expected in the next several months.