Bonding cuts anxiety among stressed-out police

"Police officers, like all of us, have a finite amount of resources they can draw on to cope with the demands of their job," says Julie McCarthy. (Credit: kris krüg/Flickr)

High levels of emotional exhaustion that come from workplace anxiety can directly lead to lower job performance, according to a study with Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers.

“Workplace anxiety is a serious concern not only for employee health and well-being, but also for an organization’s bottom-line,” says study coauthor John Trougakos, a professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management.

It’s no secret that police officers’ work in high stress environments— they confront violent offenders, crime scenes, and victims of abuse and death, and also experience immense public suspicion and scrutiny. It’s a challenging role especially while focusing on serving and protecting the public.

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“Police officers, like all of us, have a finite amount of resources they can draw on to cope with the demands of their job,” says coauthor Julie McCarthy, also a professor at University of Toronto Scarborough and Rotman School of Management. “If these resources are depleted then high levels of workplace anxiety will lead to emotional exhaustion and this will ultimately affect job performance.”

The study, which involved surveying 267 RCMP officers from across Canada, also found that the quality of relationships officers have with their peers and supervisors can help reduce the potentially harmful effects of workplace anxiety.

Supervisors and coworkers who are empathetic and provide emotional support by listening to their peers go a long way in fostering a positive work environment, notes McCarthy. These kinds of strong interpersonal relations are built on high levels of understanding and trust, which allows individual needs to be met.

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“Our findings highlight the importance of programs that allow employees to recover, build resilience, and develop strong social support networks in the workplace,” she says.

Statistics about anxiety in the modern workplace are alarming, with one survey showing 41 per cent of employees from a range of industries reporting high levels of anxiety in the workplace. The hope, McCarthy says, is to highlight the importance of having strong social support networks not only in high-stress occupations, but in any line of work.

“Organizations like the RCMP have taken great strides in developing techniques to buffer the effects of anxiety among their officers,” says McCarthy.

“Our hope is that this research will trigger conversations among other organizations about the debilitating effects of a stressed-out workplace and the importance of developing strategies to help workers cope with workplace anxiety.”

The research is available early online in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

Source: University of Toronto