Police Interview Newsletter

Volume 4, Issue 5 (September/October 2005)

Off-Duty Pursuits

Who among us does this well? Who do you know that seems to strike a happy balance between his professional career/work day and his private life away from the job?

Perhaps you've asked yourself some of the following questions. When is my office work finished for the day? Will I get home in time to sit down and eat with my family this evening? Does the sergeant need to have this accident report this evening, or could it wait until tomorrow? That play at my daughter's pre-school is scheduled for Thursday evening at 7:30, but some guys on the platoon called a meeting to review the lieutenant's concerns about last month's performance statistics. Which is more important? As the captain overseeing agency operations, I know that I am the "go-to" guy during our reorganization process. However, I haven't seen my wife for more than 10 minutes in nearly a month and my golfing buddies have already given up on expecting me for our regular Saturday tee time. What am I supposed to do? What does the agency expect of me? Can't the wife and kids understand that, as a police officer, my time is not my own? I've got to get to the gym this week to workout. How can I possibly juggle every thing that I have to do, and still have some time to myself?

Police Officers at every stage of their careers face great risk of becoming overly involved in work functions, to the detriment of home, family, friendships, recreational, educational, and spiritual activities. New recruits in the police academy are completely absorbed with their training and induction into the law enforcement culture (see "Police Academy Preparation", Vol. 3, Issue 3). During "The Early Years" (Vol. 4, Issue 1) in one's law enforcement career, officers are consumed by the grind of daily policing demands while trying to compete successfully for a few promotional slots. And, the veteran police officers, the lieutenants, captains, and majors, are frequently so weighed down with command responsibilities that personal lives are nearly forgotten.

If you are employed as a police officer, you already know how extremely demanding and seemingly unmanageable your work schedule can be. If you are a police applicant, or new recruit, you better acquaint yourself with the pressures and demands of job. A law enforcement career can easily encroach and take over your life. So, to best protect yourself against the extreme problems that can result from a poorly balanced life-depression, alcoholism, burnout, broken homes, and chronic resentment - give some serious thought and planning to your work/life balance as an officer.

Some Causes of Work/Life Imbalance

The information provided in this and the remaining sections of the newsletter is taken directly from an excellent leadership and coaching book, written by Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger, entitled "For Your Improvement: A Development and Coaching Guide" (published by The Leadership Architect®, 2000).

Lombardo and Eichinger list some of the causes for people's work and private lives being poorly balanced. See which of the following descriptors may characterize you personally or reflect your perspective at work and home. These descriptions are quoted exactly as they appear in the FYI book (p.396), in Chapter 66 on "Work/Life Balance":

__ A Worrier
__ Can't Relax
__ Off-Work is Not Exciting
__ Overly Ambitious
__ Poor Priority Setting
__ Time Management
__ Too Intense
__ Workaholic

I believe that Lombardo and Eichinger accurately point out that the best-adjusted people in our society are usually those who are also the busiest people-those with very active work lives and personal lives. And, it turns out that for many individuals, it is the "off-work" part of the balance that gives people the greatest problems.

The authors identify two culprits in this regard: "downsizing" and "pressures on those with full dual responsibilities." In effect, inadequate staffing patterns at work and 55-60 hour work weeks leave many workers too exhausted to do more than to simply try to recover/refuel during off hours. In addition, there are special pressures placed upon workers with full time jobs and full time care giver responsibilities at home (involving children, aging parents, and/or an infirmed family member).

So, what kinds of things can people do to bring more balance to their work and personal lives?

Some Remedies

On pages 396-399, Lombardo and Eichinger offer some specific recommendations for any of us (including police officers) who are in need of establishing more work/life balance in our daily and weekly schedules. In the paragraphs that follow, I've quoted the ten "remedies" that the authors champion. I would invite law enforcement applicants as well as veteran police officers to read this material with their own particular situations in mind. Only by accepting the challenge to closely analyze our personal habits and routines can we hope to discover new, healthier, and more satisfying ways to conduct our lives.

1. "All Your Eggs in One Basket?"

While it might seem like a wild idea, an AT&T stress study of busy, high potential employees revealed that "the best adjusted people forced themselves to structure off-work activities just as much as on-work activities" (p.396). So, in effect, they were adding more involvements to an already-busy life. When we are already feeling overwhelmed by work, this can sound pretty crazy. But, the key is that these folks were not allowing work responsibilities to drive everything else out of their lives-as is so easy to experience. Given that time is very limited, however, we must be willing to make a schedule, formulate plans, then manage the off-work activities with the same skills and organization abilities that make us successful people on the job.

I recently experienced how this concept could be helpful in my own life. After weeks of an intensely busy work schedule, I was starting to routinely crash on the couch at home each evening. Sensing the need for a change, I committed to attending some outdoor jazz/blues concerts with a good friend on Thursday evenings for six consecutive weeks this Fall. Intuitively, I suspected that I might not have the energy to really enjoy the concerts. But what I discovered, of course, was that I became more energized and more fun to be around when I added this new activity to my schedule.

2. "Balance Has Nothing To Do With 50/50 or Clock Time"

The authors are quick to acknowledge that simply splitting one's time into "work" and "off-work" hours doesn't solve the problem of poor work/life balance. It is much more an the issue of how we use the time available to us. We need to identify strong interests and passions, then attempt to find a balance that allows some expression of these needs and works for us personally-with a sensitivity to significant others in our lives.

What does a reasonable balance look like for you? "Is it a few hours a week unencumbered by work worries? Is it four breaks a day? Is it some solitude before bedtime? Is it playing with your kids more? Is it having an actual (rather than 'Did you remember the dry cleaning?') conversation with your spouse (partner) each day? Is it a community, religious or sports activity that you're passionate about?" (p. 397).

3. "There's Time and There's Focused Time"

Learning to be fully present, "in the moment" - as psychologists and meditation experts encourage, is critically important to really savoring those experiences that life has to offer. It is so easy to carry our work burdens home with us, to permit the problems of the work day to intrude into the "off-hours" when our priorities are rightly focused on making quality contacts with our spouses, children, and friends.

As Lombardo and Eichinger recommend: "When you have only one hour to read or play with the kids or play racquetball or sew-be there. Have fun. You won't solve any problems during the 60 minutes anyway" (p.397).

I would refer readers to audiotapes, CDs, and books (Full Catastrophe Living) by Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, a psychologist who runs a stress-reduction clinic in the Boston area and teaches widely on the topic of "mindfulness meditation."

4. "Create Deadlines, Urgencies and Structures Off-Work"

"One tactic that helps is for people to use their strengths from work off-work. If you are organized, organize something. If you are very personable, get together a regular group. If you are competitive, set up a regular match. As common sensical as this seems, AT&T found that people with poor off-work lives did not use their strengths off-work. They truly left them at the office" (Lombardo and Eichinger, p.397).

5. "What Are Your NOs?"

Can you say "no" when you need to? "No, I'm sorry, I won't be able to stay at the office to work late tomorrow." Or, "No, unfortunately, I don't have time to sit down with you today to review the agenda from last week's meeting. I've got too much on my plate. Perhaps somebody else is available." Some people, police officers included, can't seem to say "no" to co-workers even when it is a small, non-priority issue. What is it that we're avoiding? Disappointing or upsetting others? The risk of not being as well-liked or popular? Maybe peers or supervisors will be angry with us for not appearing to be a team player.

Try to remember that reasonable people will understand that you probably have a number of competing priorities and that at times it will be difficult, if not impossible, for you to be available to them. It is best of course to let people down easily, by offering a short explanation, rather than responding in a terse or abrupt way. Even so, some people may initially seem confused or mildly irritated by your having to say "no" to them. Maybe you've been a yea-sayer or patsy in the past; your newly assertive behavior may take some getting used to.

6. "Make Your Off-Work Life More Exciting"

What are you really passionate about off the job? Baseball? Cooking? Photography? Snow skiing? Jet Skiing? Shopping? Decorating? Golf? Woodworking? Whatever it is, find something enjoyable that you love to do; then make the time to do it regularly!

Lombardo and Eichinger observe that in our quest for as little stress as possible during off-work hours, many of us end up with the problem of boredom. So, take their advice and answer this question: "What are three really exciting things you and/or your family could do?" Now, schedule the time to make these activities a reality in your off-work schedule.

7. "If You Can't Relax Once You Leave Work, Schedule breakpoints or Boundaries"

"One of the great things about the human brain is that it responds to change; signal it that work is over-play music in your car, immediately play with your children, go for a walk, swim for 20 minutes-give your mind a clear repetitious breakpoint" (Lombardo and Eichinger, p. 399).

It is extremely important to contain and limit the times, places, and circumstances where you allow yourself to fret and to worry. I have some therapy clients who struggle with obsessive thought processes-that is, they tend to ruminate for hours or days in a unproductive, irrational way. I often prescribe a homework assignment designed to reduce these obsessive thoughts. What I do is to ask these clients to save all of their anxiety-provoking worry for a specific 15 minute "practice time" each evening. By shelving these intrusive thoughts during the day, and refusing to indulge them at that moment, clients are gaining some control over their obsessive thinking and offering the brain a new and more adaptive structure-a 15 minute "obsession time" in a time slot of their choice. I would recommend this practice to anyone (therapy client or not) who struggles with bothersome, repetitive thoughts.

8. "If Your Problem Goes Beyond That"

When you can't stop thinking about unresolved problems, the authors suggest that you grab a pen and some paper and write everything down that seems to be bothering you. This does a couple things: (1) it gets your thoughts out of your head and onto the page, and (2) helps to clarify the specific content of your worrisome thoughts. Lombardo and Eichinger observe that our worries generally fall into three categories: work problems, problems with people, and items on our "to-do" lists.

These coaches suggest that after getting all of your thoughts out on paper and recording any ideas that come up for dealing with your specific concerns, it becomes easier to shut off/downgrade your worrisome behavior. To reinforce the idea that you've decided to shelf your concerns for the present, you may want to say to yourself-"I've done everything I can do on that right now," or "That's right, I remember, I'll do it later" (p.398).

9. "If You Love Work, and You're Really a Happy But Unbalanced Workaholic, Try Tip Four"

If the tip four strategy is not effective for you, try to project yourself into the future 20 years from now. To make this future projection more realistic and compelling, try to identify three people who remind you of yourself in some significant ways-then ask yourself this series of questions (about those people) that Lombardo and Eichinger recommend:

  1. "Are they happy?"
  2. "How are their personal lives?"
  3. "Any problems with stress or depression?"

If the lives of those people you have identified seem lacking or unfulfilling in some way, this might serve as a wake-up call you-given that your personality traits and habits are similar in may ways. So, make some changes to help insure that you don't burn out or suffer unnecessarily!

10. "Talk to People Who Have Your Best Interest at Heart"

A close friend or confidant can be of great help and support in the best of times. When, however, you are in the throes of struggling with work/life imbalance issues, such friends become invaluable! Let's face it. When any of us are in the midst of some life conflict or problem, our perspective can quickly become warped or skewed in some way. It's hard to be objective, and often impossible to see what we're doing to ourselves. Trusted friends can point us in healthier directions and offer some much-needed reality testing. So, avoid the tendency to isolate yourself and to go-it-alone when struggles arise. Swallow your pride and seek wise counsel.

Phone: 804-353-6700
Fax: 804-358-7867
Email: MacHart@PoliceInterview.com

Malcolm M. Hart, Ph.D.
4807 Radford Avenue
Suite 103
Richmond, VA. 23230

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