The New York City Police Department, with a force of thirty-eight thousand members, is the largest and most recognized in the country. While it has been noted for its recent success in lowering crime, it has always been notable for its lack of morale. One of the key reasons for low morale is the lack of a viable recognition system for the entire force, especially the rank and file officers, spanning every department.
What is remarkable is how important an improved recognition program is, how its multiplier effect could permeate the culture and how little it is discussed, both here in New York and elsewhere. Such a program would affect so many lives within the department and the largest city in the country it is designed to serve; from reducing costs in financially restricted times to providing safer and more effective interaction with the public in terms of routine safety and times of crisis and heightened danger.
Having served in the NYPD for twenty-two years; from patrolman, to undercover narcotics, to detective, and finally SVU; I bring a first hand POV to the: problems, ramifications, existing research, and the hurdles possible solutions will face.
The significance of low morale needs to begin by looking at each member of the force, not as a number, but as an individual, a human being working in a sprawling organization that spans a variety of job descriptors and work environments.
A recognition program to lift morale would acknowledge or give special attention to employee efforts, actions, behavior or performance. It would meet an intrinsic psychological need for appreciation for one's efforts and improve any business or civil service department by reinforcing certain behaviors (e.g., extraordinary accomplishments) that contribute to organizational success. Whether formal or informal, recognition programs acknowledge employee contributions immediately after the fact, usually without predetermined goals or performance levels that the employee is expected to achieve. Rewards can be cash or non-cash, trophies, certificates, plaques, dinners, tickets, one of the easiest and most effective and underutilized, verbal praise or recognition. A recognition plan would reinforce the value of improved performance, foster continued improvement (although it is not guaranteed), formalize the process of showing appreciation; provide positive and immediate feedback and foster communication of valued behavior and activities.
The significance of low morale and the need for recognition can be seen in the unintended consequences discovered in the Hawthorne studies; an experiment to determine the effect of changes in illumination in the work environment, measuring results from the length of the subject’s work day, to the number of breaks they needed. The people involved in the studies felt special because they were singled out for the research role, and being selected showed them that management thought of them as important. The result was higher morale for the subjects and increased output, no matter what changes in illumination were implemented.
When the subjects returned to their original working conditions, output rose again. They developed better working relationships with each other as well as their supervisors. The social contact and easy relations made the work environment and the work itself more pleasant. In general, when people are spending a large portion of their time at work, they must have a sense of belonging, of being a part of a team, and of feeling appreciated. People who are recognized for their good work and effort are happier and work harder than those who are not. They are more productive. It’s a win-win situation for both employer and employee.
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