The Tri-Party Responsibility in Employee WellnessBy Roger Ramkissoon, Chief Administrative Officer, Cobourg Police ServiceThe conversation around employee wellness in policing is gaining increasing priority for all police personnel for many good and justifiable reasons. This conversation was exacerbated by a global pandemic where law enforcement professionals may have been disproportionately impacted by a variety of challenges, including vulnerable populations, anti-vax advocates and others whose mental health was significantly impacted by restrictions, lack of social and economic opportunities, etc.So, what exactly is employee wellness, and who is responsible for it? In this article, I will discuss three important parties in the employee wellness equation from a policing perspective and what each of these can do to promote well-being within their organization.DEFINING WELLNESS The Global Wellness Institute (GWI) defines “wellness” as the “active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health.” It is associated with intentions, actions and choices as we individually work towards an optimal state of health and well-being. In an employment setting, it refers to the well-being of an individual employee or group of employees. It encompasses the emotional, economic, physical and mental well-being of employees (often referred to as the dimensions of wellness or the wellness wheel). It is built on the premise that healthy employees and those experiencing better well-being will have a positive overall impact at their place of work. From a law enforcement perspective, this ultimately means that communities will experience more positive relationships, improved communication, greater trust and overall confidence in policing and our ability to keep communities safe.Source: Seneca CollegeNo longer can employers define wellness as solely offering comprehensive health benefits. The conversation must encompass a more nuanced approach to overall well-being that offers support for those invisible wellness triggers. Wellness programs must go far beyond free gym memberships, personal wellness days and paid time off. But who exactly is responsible for an employee’s well-being? There must be a shared and collaborative approach to have successful outcomes with all parties fully committed to the tri-party relationship. Let’s examine what each of the major contributors can do to achieve wellness goals based on the following concept.To this end, employees should focus on the following to help promote a healthy lifestyle:Being mentally and physically ready for work: This could be as simple as showing up for work on time, being professional and respectful in all workplace interactions and by simply being prepared. Never underestimate the impact of being late for work , missing a train, dropping kids off late, rushing or being out of their breadth. In policing, those few seconds are priceless.Source: Roger Ramkissoon.THE EMPLOYEE Central to positive wellness outcomes is the individual recognizing that they must take care of themselves emotionally, psychologically and physically. Individuals have full responsibility for their personal well-being, and only a person can manage their own physical, emotional and mental health. Critically, employers should not be held accountable for an individual’s disinterest in their personal well-being.In a policing environment, individuals are also responsible for reasonably safeguarding their work environment.Proper diet and nutrition: We are what we eat. Given the demands of the job (particularly those frontline officers), employees should consider eating foods that promote a healthy lifestyle. For example, high-fat foods can increase the risk of heart disease and some cancers, whereas sugar-laden foods can cause mood swings and negatively impact an individual’s mental health. Healthy choices should include drinking lots of water and eating more fresh fruit, vegetables, whole foods, beans and nuts, to name a few.Exercise: While the employer may be able to offer a free gym membership, it is up to the employee to make the effort to get there a few times a week. Police employers should encourage this as part of a healthy, life-long lifestyle. Exercise can improve brain health, improve an individual’s ability to do everyday activities, reduce frequency of illnesses, build immune systems, etc.Uphold standards: Law enforcement professionals (both sworn and civilian) have a high level of responsibility to uphold standards. These standards can be ethical, safety related, regulatory or required by the profession. For example, police officers are required to wear proper gear, practice safety standards and engage in behaviour that will reduce and/or eliminate unwanted risks. Civilian employees can be held to similar standards, especially if they hold a role requiring specialized training, membership and accreditations. Not upholding required standards can result in unwanted negative well-being challenges.Being proactive: Set personal wellness goals and analyze the outcomes frequently to determine if changes to programs and/or goals are required. Talk to the employer about wellness programs as early as you can into your employment. Know what is available to you and use them. As the adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.THE EMPLOYER Employers are responsible for providing well-being support, reducing and mitigating stressors, creating and promoting an environment conducive to a healthy lifestyle and creating a safe space. Through servant leadership, wellness programs, policies and procedures, the employer’s approach should be guided by an intention to treat people the way people want to be treated. Employers ought to be empathetic to individuals’ needs, which is an invaluable philosophy that strengthens the employer-employee relationship. So, what specifically can employers do?Create a physically and psychologically safe workplace: Create an environment that allows employees to bring their whole selves to work. Take well-being concerns seriously.Adopt a strategic approach and a culture of well-being: Police leaders are responsible for establishing the organization’s culture. A top-down well-being approach will indirectly influence the entire team, thus creating a culture that values individual personal wellness. For example, York Region has adopted an approach that includes five key elements such as commitment from leadership, assessment, communication, incentives and continuous evaluation. To this end, police leaders need to commit to systemic change that will complement the benefits of wellness programs – both go hand in hand.Frequent employee check-ins: In a policing environment, we all know that the workload can be mentally and physically demanding. Employers should do frequent check-ins with employees to ensure that they can cope with the demands of the job. They must endeavour to know when an employee is struggling and resolve to support them in their time of need.Encourage and normalize employees asking for help: The history of policing has made this somewhat of a challenge. The profession has been built on toughness and maleness, so employees often struggle with simply asking for help because of the negative stigma they may encounter. Leaders ought to challenge this notion and eliminate invisible barriers to support.Support and encourage diversity, respect and trust among all ranks: Encourage trust and respect among all ranks. As an institution still built on rank , leaders ought to see much more than the rank of a person and view them as a human being who might be asking for support. Leaders also need to pay attention to the unique challenges of members from diverse communities, recognizing there have been historic negative systemic issues within policing as clearly stated by the OACP. These individuals may experience unnecessary challenges in the workplace because of their backgrounds, often resulting in unnecessary physical and mental challenges. Leaders must identify these gaps and quickly address them.THE ASSOCIATION The traditional role of police associations has been to advocate for their members through collective bargaining. This advocacy can result in better wages, increased health benefits that support positive mental health and better work-life balance, all of which can contribute to improved employee well-being. More specifically, associations advocate for wellness programs, support circles, fitness centres, effective scheduling, etc. They are an important voice in the design and delivery of wellness. It must be a collaborative approach with the employer. But what else can an association do to promote wellness among its members?Represent without over-representing: Associations have a responsibility to represent their members, but are they obligated to represent poor behaviour? Let’s all acknowledge that we have heard (and read) stories of organized labour “fighting” for an employee even when the employee continues to engage in poor workplace behaviour. This is often done without considering the negative well-being impact on other employees, all under the premise of “duty to represent.” Associations need to consider how supporting poor workplace behaviour is negatively impacting the actions and interactions of other employees (their own members) who are otherwise driven and continue to outperform. While they have a responsibility to represent all employees, police associations must strive to better manage the domino effect of poor workplace antics and the negative well-being impact on those who might be tempted to mirror such behaviour.The conversation and design of employee wellness is a shared responsibility. Employees, the employer and the police association must come together to share a collaborative vision and goals that will undoubtedly lead to positive outcomes for the individual, the employer and the community at large. Each partner has a specific responsibility that can be aligned for the overall benefit of all individuals within a policing workspace.Roger Ramkissoon is the Chief Administrative Officer for the Cobourg Police Service. He is a writer and an advocate for an overall healthy lifestyle and can be reached at

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