Investigators are consistently tasked with protecting the assets of their organization, including the physical property, the merchandise, the money, and our most important asset: our people. As LP professionals’ roles continue to expand, they are involved in increasingly sensitive cases including employee relations issues, workplace violence, and other critical incident response. Through these investigations and interviews, they are focused on the safety and well‑being of their staff, including referrals to employee-assistance programs and partnerships with human resources. However, what’s often missing in this calculation is the impact on the mental health of the investigator themselves.
Interviewing witnesses, victims, and suspects can take an emotional toll on the investigator. In addition to the stress that comes with any career, interviewers are often placed in situations where the emotions, frustration, and exposure to traumatic events can trickle into their personal life. Workplace violence incidents, even if indirectly involved, may require an interviewer to empathize with witnesses and victims—often internalizing the emotions being expressed to them. Reviewing video footage from a critical incident may trigger past experiences or put the interviewer in a position where they experience secondary or vicarious trauma.
Outside of these examples, interviewers are often under high pressure to solve cases, have uncomfortable conversations, and be constantly exposed to sensitive issues that impact their staff’s livelihood. As we head into the craze of the holiday season, there may be an increased susceptibility to interviewers’ mental health. This is a great opportunity to create an intentional plan for yourself and your team in ensuring that we destigmatize these struggles and create a supportive environment for our investigators.
Can I See It?
In the discussion of mental health, it’s important for us to be self-aware while also recognizing symptoms in others that may be struggling. Increased fatigue, illness, and a lack of sleep (or too much) may be some of the physical effects of mental health struggles. Additionally, there is often a feeling of being overwhelmed and paralysis in decision-making or concentration, which may result in reduced productivity or distancing from assignments. From an interpersonal standpoint, people may be more irritable, angry, or emotional in situations that would not typically trigger such behavior. Feelings of helplessness, burnout, and anxiety may also be apparent through interactions with our team. Not every person will respond to these struggles the same, and there could be a variety of reasons outside of the workplace that cause such behaviors.
Similar to conducting investigations, it is difficult to know if somebody is acting outside of their “normal” behavior if we don’t have exposure to their everyday interactions. The touch bases we have with our staff should allow for leaders to recognize when somebody is outside of their typical engagement levels or overwhelmed in the workplace. Loss prevention professionals should not assume the role of a psychologist but can at least be generally aware of what to look for and what resources to provide our teams.
Destigmatizing Mental Health
Creating an environment where mental health is routinely discussed—and even encouraged—can be an important step in protecting our teams and ourselves. If our staff does not feel comfortable sharing their struggles or issues with being overwhelmed, they will only further internalize these feelings and add to their anxiety. Routine check-ins with the team that aren’t focused solely on task completion and metrics while also creating an open dialogue to their levels of stress can be helpful. Even if an investigator does not want to share personal struggles, it can be comforting to know that their leadership has an open door for discussion.
Discussing the importance of self-care and mental health with our teams on status calls can also help to destigmatize the issue and create an environment of support and openness. When appropriate, leaders may also show vulnerability in their own stressors or struggles to create a more open environment through this empathetic approach. Discussing our own mental health can be rewarding and fulfilling, while also creating the opportunity for others to do the same.
Furthering the need to destigmatize the issues surrounding mental health is creating a team atmosphere and culture throughout the loss prevention division. Recommendations for law enforcement professionals include the importance of having partners or teammates that we can share our struggles and wins with. Loss prevention professionals can benefit from the same concept, ensuring that nobody is “alone” in an investigation or project management. In this era of hybrid and remote work, it can often leave investigators feeling isolated, making intentional teamwork and touch bases even more important. Many organizations have also implemented surveys to allow individuals to anonymously discuss their stress levels, obstacles, and other areas impacting their engagement.
Leaders should work to create opportunities for investigators to work with teams or partners, especially throughout the holiday season. In situations where you may be a lone investigator remotely covering a large territory, make intentional contacts on a routine basis with partners across your organization. The concept of teamwork can break the boundaries of our respective organizations and stretch across the industry. Interviewers across the industry are all tasked with similar projects and exposed to the same trauma and stressors. Take this as a challenge and opportunity to reach out beyond your organization and connect with interviewers around the globe.
Ensuring we have work-life balance is often easier said than done, especially as we enter the next few months of long hours and increased workloads. This balance is something that needs to be achieved with intention and support from leadership. It can be easy for investigators to get overwhelmed with cases, spending long hours reviewing video and data followed by strategic preparation for an interview all while working extended hours. Leaders in the interview space should pay attention to the caseload and other projects assigned to the team. We are often guilty of assigning more projects to our most effective team members, which may result in burnout and inefficiency.
Creating a culture where time off from work is encouraged and out-of-office autoreplies are turned on can be helpful for those feeling overwhelmed or anxious. Work-life balance is not simply an issue of how much time is spent in either category, but what purpose we are giving to that time. Interviewers who are tasked with sensitive investigations and handling critical incidents can benefit from meditation, yoga, or exercise. Reading a book instead of an exception report and being present with friends or family instead of checking emails are all simple choices with lasting impacts. As we get into the hectic season of investigations, late-night alarm calls, overnight surveillance, and traumatic incidents, let’s not forget to take care of our most important asset: our people.