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Chief Inspector Mike Russell

Chief Inspector Mike Russell speaks to Policing Insight’s Keith Potter about an initiative that has significantly improved officer retention in Greater Manchester.

With police around the world facing challenges over filling vacancies, attracting new officers and ensuring staffing levels can meet growing demand on policing, it’s no surprise some are turning to innovative and alternative approaches to recruitment.

In Greater Manchester Police (GMP), a seemingly simple, yet highly effective, retention strategy has resulted in about two-thirds of officers considering leaving deciding to remain with the force. And this impressive turnaround was achieved in less than three months after the launch of the “Stay Interview” initiative, Mike says.

“It’s another strand really to making GMP a good place to work; it’s an additional support mechanism for people who are – I suppose wobbling is the right word, or struggling a little bit – and who may be wondering whether the police is really for them,” says Mike.

Rather than being an “exit” interview Mike describes the Stay Interview as an opportunity to “keep people within the organisation by enabling them to have honest conversations”.

“It’s a confidential conversation – other than the usual caveats around safeguarding and that kind of thing – where officers can talk around how they’re feeling… in an environment where they can be free to discuss their fears, their concerns, and some of the challenges.”

Open to all

Among younger officers those conversations can include worries about money, seeing other people of the same age earning considerably more for less demanding roles, and the challenges of the job itself.

“We can talk through the reasons why someone wanted to join the police in the first place; it’s probably not going to be for the money, but about location, unique experiences, helping people, all those sorts of things.”

However, younger officers are far from the only ones to take advantage of the new approach. “We have officers with 20 years or more service who are also wondering about their future in the job, and who have different stresses and concerns.

“In those cases, if it’s more welfare support, for example, we act almost as an intermediary – we can suggest support that’s available to them... Sometimes [we find] they enjoy the police, but their relationship with a local line manager, or a localised issue, is the problem. Because my team is independent, we can look forcewide for potential solutions.”

The independence of the five-member team is crucial to officers having confidence in the process. So too is the fact that all the members of the team are themselves uniform officers, as opposed to HR staff or part of an external agency.

The team began providing Stay Interviews in September: “Our retention rate is 64 per cent of the people we speak to staying within the organisation,” says Mike. “We’ve spoken to people who have two days of service left, and still managed to retain them. [But] the earlier we speak to someone who’s wobbling the better.”

Listening and understanding

“A key learning point has been the need to use the right language,” says Mike. “I think previously, the temptation has been to use a lot of strategic language, which doesn’t help us to manage our audience... if you get the tone wrong, it looks like you’ve got a member of senior leadership team who has come up with an initiative that’s not necessarily for the users.”

The team has also been careful to ensure that the approach within the interviews has been far from high pressured: “We don’t go in trying to persuade, it’s about listening and understanding, and then talking through what’s best for them – but it’s not a hard sell because it shouldn’t be,” says Mike.

Leaving and learning

While the focus of the initiative is retention, there have been other benefits from the programme.

“Although we’re not an exit interview, sometimes de facto we become one because people haven’t had one. But it does mean people can leave with dignity; they leave knowing they’ve had all the support, we’ve listened, it’s perhaps not for them, but they can go out with their head held high. Which in turn helps your recruitment, because they leave and go: ‘Well, do you know what, GMP have tried – it wasn’t for me, but it’s a pretty decent place to work.’ That is a big benefit,” says Mike.

“We also capture the learning, because if we don’t, we’re missing out on a massive opportunity to make all the systems better... it’s very much around investing and supporting people.”

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