23 Jul 2018

Police emergency call handlers' rosters adding to job stress

1:03 pm on 23 July 2018

A rostering system for police emergency call handlers is being called a failure for putting too much stress on those taking some of the country's most harrowing calls.

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Photo: 123rf

Preference-Based Scheduling, or PBS, is one of two rostering systems used in police communication centres. It was first introduced in 2015 and is used by 62 staff members.

It takes the preferred hours of staff and generates a six week roster, best suiting everyone.

However, a recent survey showed 61 percent of supervisors rated the process as poor and very poor.

Among other workers, 41 percent rated the system poorly and 40 percent said it was adequate.

In an anonymous letter to the editor in this month's Police News, the writer said the system was forced on new call handlers and it was time to admit it was a mistake.

"PBS was sold to us as 'work-life balance', but unless the balance you want falls in a low-demand window, it just ain't going to happen," they said.

They said among the horror stories were:

  • Someone working 56 night shifts across three months (other non-PBS staff have between 18-20 shifts).
  • Working a whole month of one day off and one on (shifts are either six or 10 hours long).
  • An entire roster where the maximum number of consecutive days off is one.

Police Association president Chris Cahill said many people took on the roster to work around other commitments like childcare.

However, he said the rosters were subjecting staff to increased stress in an already stressful job.

"You hear a lot of distasteful and at times upsetting things, so the last thing you need is rosters that are adding to that problem.

"When you're not having consecutive days off for long periods, or extended time on night shifts, that doesn't add to a work-life balance that's going to assist you to do the best in your role," he said.

Mr Cahill said in an important area like taking emergency calls, you wanted things to go as smoothly as possible.

"Having a unhappy or at times disengaged work force is not going to result in that," he said.

He said the association would be addressing the issues in the collective employment agreement discussions with New Zealand Police.

New Zealand Police's principal adviser on people matters, Kaye Ryan, said the organisation was aware of the issue.

"It is something we are looking to change and we will be having active discussions with Police Association about it in the near future," she said.

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