Policing professionals in back-office support roles who work with traumatic material require additional support from the employer if they’re working from home.
Research by a team of psychologists at the University of Birmingham found that police and law enforcement professionals working in intelligence and analytical roles with traumatic material – for example in cases of serious sexual assault or homicide – reported feeling anxious, sad, lonely and exhausted.
The psychologists carried out interviews at an early stage of the pandemic to find out how workers in these sectors had been affected – both in terms of their work and their mental health – and what support they had received from employers.
Almost all volunteers from police forces across the UK, 11 female and five male, reported some positive effects of the pandemics, such as valuing the efforts made by employers to provide a safe working environment, and the pandemic causing fewer crimes overall to be committed.
But, working from home with fewer job resources made working with traumatic material more challenging and time-consuming. In addition, colleagues were less able to access informal conversations with colleagues, losing out on additional expertise as well as informal social support.
Three-quarters of interviewees felt lonely and isolated when working from home, with one participant stating: “when you’re home, it is lonelier to work with this material”.
A further three-quarters highlighted challenges with separating their work and home life when working remotely, which had led to overwork and feelings of sadness and exhaustion.
Stress and wellbeing
“While many law-enforcement officers will have to leave home to carry out their duties, others in more analytical or research roles, may find themselves working remotely and potentially on distressing topics such as sexual violence or homicide,” said lead researcher Dr Fazeelat Duran.
“For staff working from home, this means bringing such material into the home, blurring boundaries which can be important for mental well-being. It also often means additional careful management is required to ensure other family members do not come into contact with the material.”
The research, published in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice and Policy, suggested that employers and line managers could consider:
- facilitating access to online group activities, for example by providing vouchers for online classes
- encouraging new hobbies by sending home activities for employees
- providing access to CPD activities and courses that could give a sense of achievement and a break from distressing material
- avoiding exhaustion amongst workers by deciding the work schedule and performance level according to where the staff member is based (at the workplace or at home)
- responding to the needs of their staff who take traumatising material into the home.
“Although we recognise the nature of the work done by these analysts/intelligence professionals, their roles put some constraints on what measures can be put in place, there clearly needs to be some consideration of how to support staff carrying out this vital work in particularly challenging circumstances,” added Dr Duran.