‘In the “too difficult” box?’ Organizational inflexibility as a driver of voluntary resignations of police officers in England and Wales

Sarah Charman, Jemma Tyson

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Record numbers of police officers are voluntarily resigning in England and Wales yet there is a lack of research which analyses why. Findings from an analysis of 62 interviews with police leavers who voluntarily resigned from the police service within England and Wales between January 2021 and June 2022 suggest that officers are leaving primarily due to perceptions of organizational injustice which focus upon: a lack of voice; concerns about promotion/progression; poor leadership; and a lack of organizational flexibility. This paper takes this latter reason—organizational flexibility—as its focus and through an inductive analysis of these leavers’ voices, aims to both enrich the scarce qualitative academic literature on police workforce resignations and retention but also to offer significant evidence for future consideration of workforce optimization. The findings indicate that although sympathetic to operational policing complexities, participants were frustrated by organizational inflexibility. Three key areas were identified where the police service was perceived to be unsupportive or unreceptive—(a) dealing with additional needs, disabilities, or health issues of officers, (b) conflicts with non-work commitments, primarily those associated with childcare/parental responsibilities, and (c) supporting officers transitioning to part-time working. These structural barriers to effective workplace functioning were exacerbated by the cultural norms of overwork and ‘fitting in’ and were additionally particularly experienced by female resigners. The authors call for a challenge to the cultural barriers towards flexible working, the modelling of flexible working at all levels of the organization, and a focus on reciprocal flexibility between employer and employee. Until this issue can be tackled, it is argued that retention will continue to be an underestimated but significant site of inequality within policing.
Original languageEnglish
JournalPolicing (Oxford)
Early online date21 Feb 2024
Publication statusEarly online - 21 Feb 2024

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