WORKING CLIMATE IN POLICE ORGANISATIONS: a productivity factor
Leonardo Román Lafuente Valentín
Director of the Castilla La Mancha School of Citizen Protection
The “working climate” is the human and physical environment in which daily work takes place. It is related to the “know-how” of the manager, to people’s behaviour, to their way of working and relating to each other, to their interaction with the organisation, to the machines used and to their own activity.
It is the Local Police Directorate, with its culture and management systems, which must provide the right environment for a good working climate, and it is part of the personnel and human resources policies to improve that environment through the use of precise techniques.
While a “good climate” is oriented towards general objectives, a “bad climate” destroys the working environment causing conflict situations and low performance.
The perceptions and responses that cover the climate that exists in a police organisation originate from a variety of factors. Some cover leadership factors and management practices (types of supervision: authoritarian, participatory, etc.), and other factors are related to the formal system and structure of the organisation (incentive and recognition systems, social support, interaction with other members, etc.).
To measure the “work climate,” it is normal to use “rating scales”. These dimensions are related to the properties of an organisation, and their study answers the situation of the organisation. Some of the aspects to be evaluated are:
– Responsibility (empowerment). This is the feeling of the organisation’s members about their autonomy in making decisions related to their work. The fact that any police officer has all the independence he or she is capable of, i.e. feeling like their own boss and not having double control over their work, is conducive to a good climate:
- responsibility (empowerment). This is the feeling of the organisation’s members about their autonomy in making decisions related to their work. The fact that any police officer has all the independence he or she is capable of, i.e. feeling like their own boss and not having double control over their work, is conducive to a good climate;
- physical conditions. The physical conditions take into account the environmental characteristics in which the work is carried out: police vehicles, adequate communications equipment, dignified and appropriate facilities for police work, the distribution of spaces, the location (situation) of people, police materials, etc.;
- leadership. Measures the capacity of leaders to relate to their collaborators. A leadership that is flexible in the face of the multiple work situations that they present, and that offers a treatment that is tailored to each collaborator, generates a positive work climate that is coherent with the company’s mission and that allows and promotes success;
- relationships. It is the perception by the members of the organisation of the existence of a pleasant work environment and good social relations among peers, as well as among bosses and subordinates. The degree of maturity, respect, the way of communicating with each other, collaboration or lack of comradeship, trust, are all aspects of utmost importance. The quality of human relations within a company is perceived by the citizens – customers;
- identity. It is the feeling of belonging to the organisation, or ‘membership’, that is an essential and valuable element within the working group, especially in police organisations. It is crucial to know that there is no involvement of officers without efficient leadership and acceptable working conditions;
- structure. The structure of the organisation refers to whether or not there are operational and established methods of organising work, and whether these methods involve too much bureaucracy, putting up barriers to a good working environment and development. In police organisations, it is absolutely necessary to have an effective and efficient structure, known to and participated in by all members. Specialisation in police organisation is needed as crime is also a specialised activity today;
- recognition. The question is whether the police organisation has a system for recognising work well done. It is easy to recognise the prestige of those who usually hold it, but it is more challenging to offer a distinction to those who because of their rank do not usually stand out. When a job well done is never recognised, apathy appears, and the working climate progressively deteriorates. A public policy of recognition in police services is fundamental;
- Remuneration. The remuneration system is fundamental. Fixed low and medium wages do not contribute to a good working climate because they do not allow for an assessment of improvements and results. Competitive organisations have created wage policies based on performance and result parameters that are measurable. This creates an atmosphere of achievement and encourages effort. In public administration, there is a wage concept of “productivity”. Unfortunately, this productivity, which must be linked to the achievement of objectives, is not managed correctly, and is subject to trade union demands for a linear distribution of it, limiting the possibility of rewarding the official who achieves for the organisation. It is important to stress that “money is not everything” because many officials are not willing to take on new responsibilities since the higher the salary level, the higher the performance required (more hours worked, higher performance, travel, etc.). Although most workers show a strong inclination to earn more money, they often do not want the social role that goes with it;
- cooperation. This is the feeling of the members of the organisation about the existence of a spirit of help from the managers and other employees of the group. The emphasis is on mutual support, both from above and below;
- conflicts. The acceptance by the members of the organisation of dissenting opinions, so that there is no fear of confronting and resolving disputes, either in employees of the same hierarchical level or between one level and the following;
- equality. Equality is a value that measures whether all members of the organisation are treated fairly. It is necessary to observe whether there is any discrimination among the staff members of the organisation.
Other factors. Other factors influence the work climate: training, promotion expectations, job security, schedules, medical services, etc.
It is also important to note that there is no single work climate, but rather the existence of sub-climates that coexist simultaneously. Thus, a unit or group within a police organisation may have an excellent environment, while in another team the working environment may be or become very poor.
The most common tools for measuring climate are the following:
Observing the work. Direct observation of what and how officers work daily is a very accurate and comprehensive way of measuring the organisational climate. This method requires several observations in representative areas of the organisation. The number and duration of these observations must be sufficient to minimise the relative importance of variables that are typical of extraordinary or unusual situations. This usually means that the observation must be carried out over some time and requires the involvement of a highly qualified team of observers.
Interview several team members. Interviews conducted by experts can substitute for direct observations. The data from these interviews are very diverse, making it easier to analyse patterns and trends over time with the information obtained from a single session.
Carry out a written survey. This is the most efficient way to use questionnaires, as it allows information to be collected from many people in a short time. The fundamental problem they can present is that you cannot go too deep. Consequently, the data from a survey run the risk of being easily misinterpreted if the number of questionnaires is insufficient, or if the approaches on which they are built are not suitable for the organisation.
Actions to improve the work climate are logically aimed at strengthening the factors that condition the work climate, which is a function of the information collected in the organisation. These actions should be aimed at:
- increasing flexibility: by reducing rules, promoting new ideas, reducing lines of authority, efficient organisation, etc.;
- increasing responsibility: through calculated risk-taking, promoting empowerment, a delegation of tasks, recognition of results, etc.;
- Increase standards: by promoting challenging goals, providing information and support to improve performance, increasing rewards, etc.;
- increase rewards: eliminating threats and criticism, rewarding staff in proportion to the quality of their performance, providing opportunities for professional development, etc.;
- increase clarity: by clarifying job expectations and corporate objectives, establishing policies and procedures, setting precise lines of authority, etc.
- increase team spirit: through rapid conflict resolution, encouraging cooperation, motivating team members to iterate, etc.;
All the action that can be proposed in an organisation to improve its working climate involves a considerable effort on its part, costs that must be assumed without problems, especially if we think that one aspect that differentiates successful organisations from the rest is the good working climate that exists since it is clear that the human being is the centre of work. It is, therefore, a priority to assume these facts, to bet on improving the good working environment must be more important in an organisation than using sophisticated management tools.