A Common Sense, People-First Manifesto of Positivity for the Emergency Services in 2020


Today, Britons will trudge to their local polling station to face an unenviable choice between a punch in the face or a kick in the shin, or perhaps if we’re lucky an uneasy coalition between the two. How energising and positive.

Imagine then, if you will, a different path based on positivity, common sense (which has been conclusively shown to be uncommon recently) and a desire to actually take practical action to make things better. Spoiler alert – this manifesto does not promote endless conferences, gravy trains, hot air or self-interest – it aims to Make Integrity Great Again.

People first. That’s the thrust of my proposals. People make the World go round (possibly, I got a C in A-Level Physics). People certainly fuel the functioning of the emergency services and public services that are at the core of the society we should be aspiring to. The goodwill of these people has been relied upon, exploited and often crushed since 2010 and that is unforgivable. Pay, pensions, working conditions, career progression, physical and mental health all chipped away at under the guise of “all being in it together”. Which we aren’t, by the way.

The issues around people have been extensively covered in my previous ramblings (sorry, content) so I won’t pick them all apart again, other than to say that all the pillars I’m going to build this manifesto around are interlinked and fundamental: which is to say that although I like dogs as much as the next middle-class semi-rural South East of England man, bringing one into a police/ambulance control room once a month does not a wellbeing strategy make.

“Humility is the beginning of all understanding”

Humility, like the aforementioned common sense and integrity, is in short supply in the modern world. We appear to live in a society where those with nothing to say are afforded the loudest voices. That’s not only hugely frustrating when you sit down to enjoy televised football and hear Martin Keown’s voice, it’s indicative of a much more damaging cultural shift where Impostor Syndrome is rampant among fantastic people who feel they cannot express their ideas, back themselves to progress their careers or just truly step up to the levels of achievement they deserve.

The absolute thread of the work we do with emergency services personnel across ranks, roles, countries, genders, ethnicities, faiths and so on is lack of self-belief. Are you starting to see the paradox we must solve here?

I don’t invoke this comparison lightly, but I do think it fits: the dynamic between too many first responders and their employer is akin to an abusive relationship. Entirely toxic, but “you can’t leave because no-one else will want you”. Or when the realisation starts to dawn that perhaps being treated this way isn’t OK, that olive branch of an apology in the form of that sweet, sweet overtime payment appears and another month of loyalty is gained. Being unhappy somewhere you know starts to appeal more than the prospect of change and all its apparent uncertainty. That precious self-worth ebbs further away.

Humility needs to re-enter the dictionary in many HQ buildings around the 999/911 World. Being humble enough to accept that perhaps the way things are, the way they have been, doesn’t work anymore. Acceptance that there might be people out there (here) who have skills, ideas and drive that could be harnessed to make things better – and want to do it for the right reasons. For the individual, I don’t know if anyone has ever achieved anything without sooner or later finding the humility to try, fail, learn, try and try again. As famous workforce development strategist Mike Tyson said:

“Everybody got a plan ‘til they get punched in the mouth”.

Well Mike has metaphorically been wearing a blue rosette and punching the emergency services in the mouth for years now, so what’s the plan?

I propose that it should firstly accept that these three things are inherently and inextricably linked:

Recruitment

Retention

Resettlement

Isn’t it great that they are alliterative too? This politics thing isn’t so hard after all.

Recruitment

Not so long ago, one of the stock answers I got to my suggestion that there might be issues in 999/911 workforces was: “can’t be a problem here mate, people still want to join”. Leaving aside the idiocy of that statement, in many places that queue outside the door no longer exists. So, the recent policy of pouring more water into a bucket full of holes is entering dry season. An equally valid question is where the water comes from, how it is selected and what kind of water it is. In a competitive market, talented people need to be attracted actively, not just presented with a series of hoops to jump through because “that’s how it is”.

Understand why people join, how they want to progress their career, what drives them – and support it. Harness their individuality instead of stifling it.

Retention

Not much point attracting the best talent if you can’t keep it, is there? Recruitment is time-consuming and expensive – not to mention the continued investment to take someone to a point of professional mastery in a complex role like police officer, paramedic or basically anything where we ask them to make life-changing and liberty-depriving decisions. Humility comes back to us here – some people will always leave. That can be a great sign of a healthy organisation, if they are leaving because they have grown and developed into new challenges only available elsewhere. It shows they have been supported and invested in: an investment I guarantee they will have repaid in their efforts to get to the next level for their own pathway. If this support and empowerment is proactive and positive though, even more will stay and thrive within that organisation, raising the overall level of performance – which let’s remember means safer places to live, better healthcare, functioning schools and prisons and so on so some fairly important outcomes.

Proactively develop people by investing in their personal and professional development. They give it all for you – ask what you might give them in return.

Resettlement

Getting to 30 years’ service and not being given more than half a day of sales pitches on where to invest your pension or a few clichés as “careers advice” is a disgrace. As is being medically retired without any input into what happens next. Those should have been solved when the model was about most people staying for the 30. Now that it isn’t, we have many other dimensions to consider and I’ll proffer this: change the language. I, for example, am not a retired cop. I used to be one. I’m 34. I chose to leave policing for many of the reasons above. Even if you have reached 30+ years’ service, “retired” is massively undervaluing what you might want to continue to offer the world of work.

Leavers at all levels and lengths of service will go into new fields and talk about their police career. At the moment, they’re hardly likely to be advocates… which doesn’t make that recruitment queue any longer, does it? As it stands, will any of them come back (as the College of Policing hopes)? I’d say that’s about as realistic as me winning the lottery when I haven’t bought a ticket.

Proactively equip people to leave successfully and positively by helping them understand the options available to them, giving them the confidence to enter new sectors and boldly sell their value.

I don’t think that’s difficult to understand, I don’t think it’s unachievable and I refuse to be told that we can’t make it a reality. So, like all good party-political broadcasts, let me call you to arms and invite you to make the right decision for 2020: vote Wheelhouse for people, positivity and progress. Otherwise, if you are a chief officer or HR director in the emergency services, watch your best people vote with their feet.

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