Psychological Contracts for Dummies

Yesterday, I sat down and had a conversation with another Met PC who is thinking about moving on. He’s got seven years’ service and loads to offer, but he had tears in is eyes as he told me he’d reached the conclusion that his future lies elsewhere.

Not that long ago, I had similar but separate conversations with two other PCs – excellent officers from different Met Boroughs – who were leaving the Job long before their time. There was nothing I could do to change their minds.

And we need to read the signs.

I still think this is the best job in the world – and unequivocally one of the most important – but I also recognise that, in the view of many officers, all is not well with policing at the moment.

It’s not that they have stopped caring (completely the opposite in fact), it’s just that many of them are wrestling with how the Job seems to be – at least, from where they’re standing.

It’s the result of a collision of circumstances, the compound effect of a succession of challenges. The list is a familiar one: pay and pensions and promotion opportunities and operational demand and hostile criticism and endless change that doesn’t always appear to be for the better. No one is asking for sympathy (these are first world problems after all), but there needs to be an acknowledgement that these things have an impact on our people in a thousand different ways.

Policing is, for me, an affair of the heart and the soul – more art than a science; an imperfect response to an imperfect world.

But it matters.

Dear God, it matters.

Earlier this year, a PC in Sheffield was repeatedly attacked by a suspect armed with an axe. She suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg and lost a finger in the frenzied assault. The following day, a Met PC had his leg shattered as he attempted to deal with a suspect vehicle. A few days earlier, a friend and colleague of mine was chasing a man who pulled a gun on him and opened fire. The suspect missed and the officer survived.

And still their colleagues take the calls.

We need to understand why Police Officers do what they do – the thing that clever people refer to as the psychological contract that exists between them and the rest of us.

When officers went down into the tunnels on 7/7, they didn’t do it because we paid them to. They did it because duty compelled them to.

When officers confront the armed and the dangerous, it isn’t because we tell them to. They do it because courage demands they do.

When officers sit and comfort the broken and the grieving, it isn’t because performance targets require them to. They do it because compassion urges them to.

When officers risk everything to save the life of a complete stranger, it isn’t in the expectation of thanks or reward. They do it because simple humanity would never have it otherwise.

When officers take a deep breath, dust themselves down and go again; when they put themselves in harm’s way; when they work every hour in impossible circumstances; when they confront the unthinkable and face up to the unimaginable…

…They do it for reasons that you could never put a price on – but that we cannot, under any circumstances, afford to be without.

Policing needs reforming – in endless different ways. But any and every change has got to be founded on the best of what – or, rather, who – we are.

Because the best of who we are is the best that people can be.


9 thoughts on “Psychological Contracts for Dummies

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  1. You are, as ever, very eloquent in your description of both the situation faced by those in The Job and the motives of officers. I always believed that policing was a vocation and that view has never changed, but several years ago our local MP and subsequently pensions minister came and spoke to officers. He told them that to believe it was a vocation was deluded, it was ‘a job’ just like any other and that officers should expect to serve for a few years and move on. Needless to say my shift were outraged and I’m only surprised that they didn’t resort to abuse.

    My service is now over and instead I work for the next target of our delightful Home Secretary, Fire and Rescue. Already the same campaigns of disinformation are beginning and I imagine the same conversations will be had in Fire Stations as are held in Police Stations.

    I fear until the respect due to those who serve is restored things will continue downhill, one can only hope without the issues that were seen on the last occasion in the late70’s. Please keep leading by example and inspiring others, without such leadership matters can only deteriorate.


    1. Another good read as ever John, and thank you for highlighting the issues. I need to pinch myself sometimes before I can recognise what the Met has become since I retired in 2002, it has changed so much. We hear much about “Police Reform” under this, and the previous, government, but “Reform” requires “Improvement” and I’m not convinced that we are seeing any. With total respect to those crrently serving, as an outsider now, I am not seeing much improvement. I am seeing thousands of officers trying to do their very best, but being held back by the realities of “Reform”. In my humble opinion the very highest ranks of the Police Service need to point out to government and the public exactly where and how “Reform” is NOT working. I am a member of the public now and as such I want to hear the TRUTH, no matter how unpallatable, and not Theresa May and Tom Winsor’s (he has to bear some responsibility for this) version of the truth. Crime is NOT down, and “Reform” is not working and until the senior echelons and Home Office realise this resignations such as you describe will continue and become an exodus


  2. John, please have a look at case after case on to see the true value placed on staff by the organisation. Whoever says otherwise is paying lip-service, when push comes to shove, whether an officer suffers a serious physical or psychological injury, in overwhelming numbers they are being refused medical pensions that they are entitled to, or they are having to go down the hugely stressful route of appeals and judicial reviews.

    Sadly, the MPS CMOs/SMPs are amongst the worst.


  3. Sir your thoughts and wisdom never cease to amaze me. what a fantastic overview of policing which I’ve been proud to be a member of for 40 years. Please lead us from the front and share your views with those who make decisions on policing never having experienced the circumstances you allude to. Thank you

    On Wed, Jun 1, 2016 at 1:48 PM, policecommander wrote:

    > policecommander posted: “Yesterday, I sat down and had a conversation with > another Met PC who is thinking about moving on. He’s got seven years’ > service and loads to offer, but he had tears in is eyes as he told me he’d > reached the conclusion that his future lies elsewhere. Not ” >

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Somehow you’ve managed to surpass your usual quality. I’ve been the guy in more than one of those situations and the chance to be there again when I’m needed is what keeps me coming to work. To be a copper, not to reach the targets or get the next rank, but to run towards what everyone else runs away from.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I was a Sgt with 20 years service and I have left to pursue a new career. Admittedly I was not in the pension for the first 10 years and we do have a growing business.

    However, if you had said 20 years ago that I would not have completed my service I would have laughed at you.

    ThE final straw was receiving an IPCC complaint for just doing my job and having my workload doubled overnight. I left proud and with a tear in my eye but the job is broken and it needs fixing urgently.


  6. I’ve said many times that this is a job I personally could not do. It’s not a lack of courage, I’d bet there aren’t many things more frightening than going out on a 7.5m rib at o-dark thirty on a freezing winter morning during a force 8 with naff all but your three or four other crew mates to search for some poor survivor out there waiting to succumb to the sea. No, it’s more about the lack of respect, the endless “them and us” aspect. Fair play to all of you. And I have no doubt that what you are writing is truth. The governments should all hang their heads in shame.


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