When working to build and maintain an effective law enforcement team, the best leaders seek to spread the workload and objectively distribute specialized duties among team members. Spreading the workload serves to sustain star performers while cultivating rising stars. Passing down special duties gives veteran members time to focus on new challenges and allows new employees to gain experience. This article discusses how to develop and retain employees by ensuring star performers are not overloaded, while giving rising stars opportunities to shine.
Spreading the workload equitably is critical to building and maintaining an effective law enforcement team. Sharing out responsibilities among team members helps support and retain key players while cultivating rising stars. A few years ago, our police department hired a young officer who showed great potential. Although he was still green, it wasn’t long before he was given a number of collateral duties and specialized assignments. In a year’s time, he went through a series of traffic crash investigation courses and was soon an accident re-constructionist – a crowning achievement in that specialization. He tried out for the SWAT team and landed a sniper position – but it wasn’t enough. After less than five years with the department, he moved on to a larger agency. When asked, he told me he had already realized all the goals he had set for himself, and the department had nothing more to offer him. He had accomplished everything in a few years that he had planned to do over the course of a career.
Recruitment and retention of qualified employees is a tremendous challenge for law enforcement agencies. Employees are often hired, trained and developed, only to be recruited away by other agencies. Studies indicate that many who jump ship feel they are either not fairly rewarded or not given opportunities for professional development. A study of our agency a few years ago revealed that 20% of sworn employees with more than a year of experience had no specialized duties, while about a third were carrying four or more. Even as a star performer’s training and contacts are advantages for the agency, they also make the employee more visible to organizations looking to recruit specific skills. If special assignments are invested in only a few employees, the agency runs the risk of greater loss if one top performer is lured away.
Some employees exceed expectations and perform at a high level. Because they are often viewed as having more value than others, these employees are frequently saddled with additional responsibilities. Overloading star performers can overwhelm them, making it difficult for them to meet expectations. This not only limits their ability to complete special assignments, it decreases overall job performance. When star performers realize they are overloaded and their performance is deteriorating, they may look for employment elsewhere to alleviate the burden. As the old saying goes, “you can work a good workhorse to death.”
While some employees are overloaded, others may feel unappreciated or underutilized – leading them to look for better conditions or opportunities elsewhere. To develop employees at all levels, agencies should look for ways to expand core job functions to provide greater challenges and growth opportunities. Spreading the workload helps to maintain the productivity of high performers while identifying and retaining rising stars. As new employees begin to master core competencies, special duties should be passed down to them. This allows beginners to cut their teeth while giving veterans a chance to take on greater challenges. By sharing the workload, today’s stars are retained without burning out or flying away, while rising stars are mentored and prepared for larger roles in the future.
Bowman, M. D., Carlson, P. M., Colvin, R. E., & Green, G. S. (2006). The Loss of Talent: Why Local and State Law Enforcement Officers Resign to Become FBI Agents and what Agencies Can Do About It. Public Personnel Management, 35(2), 121-136.
Oldroyd, J. B., & Morris, S. S. (2012). Catching Falling Stars: A Human Resource Response to Social Capital’s Detrimental Effect of Information Overload on Star Employees. Academy Of Management Review, 37(3), 396-418.