Building a strong justice system workforce extends far beyond the recruitment and background check process. Studies show that the most impactful time for an employee typically occurs within the first year of employment, with their first-day experience being a memorable time that sets the tone for their role within your organization.
Intentionally focusing on each new team member's first day and first year—whether your recruit is new to the field or a seasoned professional—is critical to building and retaining a strong justice system workforce.
Recruiting and Onboarding
Recruiting, onboarding, and retaining a strong justice system workforce requires intentional, strategic efforts because of the unique needs of justice system work and because of the ever-changing interests of applicants, the community, and the fluctuation of the economy.
Traditional marketing methods such as print, radio, and public transit ads continue to be a great way to cast a large recruitment net. Utilizing social media to announce vacancies, share stories about your work, and highlight new, mid-career, and long-term justice system professionals is another great way to connect with the community, your team, and to recruit. Web-based employment-focused and job search websites can also be used to target individuals with an interest and/or experience in corrections, law enforcement, social science, and justice reform.
Regardless of which platforms or mediums are used to recruit, considering the culture of your workforce at every touchpoint is crucial. As Herb Kelleher, one of the co-founders of Southwest Airlines once said, “Hire for attitude, train for skill.” Prior to reviewing applications and interviewing candidates, make a list of your organization’s core values, as well as personality traits that are needed to align with your agency’s culture and justice reform goals. During the interview(s), make a mental or physical note of the candidate’s values and traits. After the interview, assess how each candidate, with their diverse values, traits, education, and experience will align with and add to your agency’s culture and workforce needs.
Once a candidate is selected and the onboarding process has begun, create a plan to stay connected with them throughout the process because it can be a time-consuming and stressful time for a candidate. Regular communication with potential candidates throughout this time is a great way to demonstrate your agency’s commitment to open communication and, most importantly, to them joining the team.
Identifying an “onboarding” staff member or a team with the responsibility of being a liaison and maintaining constant contact with the candidate helps provide a positive initial experience for the candidate and the organization. Onboarding team members should frequently provide updates to candidates, advising them of the recruitment process, from application review to interviews to the status of the background check to next steps. Additionally, onboarding team members can be the points of contact should the candidate(s) have questions about the process and should be providing regular updates to appropriate internal staff about the candidate’s status.
With the background check complete and the candidate cleared for hire, the onboarding staff member or team should continue to work closely with the candidate and the candidate’s supervisor to ensure the candidate has the necessary information and resources needed to start the job. Completing these steps will continue to build rapport and reinforce the individual’s decision to join your workforce.
The employee’s actual first day on the job is your agency’s opportunity to demonstrate that being a member of your workforce will be rewarding and meaningful, and to let the employee know they are a welcome and necessary addition to the team.
Whenever possible, new employees should start on a day when their supervisor is on duty because it allows the supervisor to welcome them to the team, as well as share their vision, values, and expectations specific to culture and justice reform. While it isn’t necessary for the supervisor to remain with the new employee all day, assigning an engaging and knowledgeable colleague to spend the first day orienting the new team member is important. This employee should introduce the new employee to others, show them around the facility, answer basic questions, arrange a meal or breaks with other team members, and be a resource to the new employee in the future. At the end of the first day, it is recommended that the supervisor circle back with the new employee, even if only by phone, to see how the day went and to emphasize their added value to the team.
New employee orientation training should be offered and completed as soon as possible because, in addition to the first-day experience, this training provides new employees with basic benefit and procedural information necessary to their job, health, and well-being. Equally important are ongoing growth-focused interactions with employees. Regular professional development and team-building activities build skills and relations, which contribute to positive mental health. Prioritizing training and professional development in the first year, and in years to follow, shows the organization is committed to investing in their staff.
Staff Health and Wellness
Justice system professionals are expected to manage a wide range of responsibilities, as well as to be subjected to dangerous situations that can and do take a toll on their health and wellness. Multiple studies indicate that justice system professionals experience high levels of stress, burnout, and other mental-health related symptoms. Left unaddressed, justice system employees may display negative behaviors, experience a decrease in performance, and/or have frequent absences or tardiness.
In order to build a strong justice system workforce, we must ensure we are doing everything possible to build employee wellness. A few simple steps leaders can take to foster health and wellness include:
● Know employees personally, meet with them individually and collectively, regularly and organically
● Promote and model work/life balance
● Offer personal health and wellness benefits, programs, and practices
● Require mental health first aid training for all employees
● Regularly assess overtime and regular shifts, adjusting to prevent burnout and inequities
● Ask for, offer, and accept help
As professionals who regularly engage with justice-involved individuals in various stages of crisis, trauma-informed responses are a regular part of our evidence-based practices. Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the impact these crises and high-risk situations have on our staff’s mental health; especially if the impact is not immediate and obvious. Being a trauma-informed supervisor, who recognizes immediate or gradual trauma amongst team members, is crucial to caring for the health and wellness of your employees throughout their career.
When you notice an employee struggling, whether at work or in their personal life:
● Check in on them and offer support
● Meet with them more frequently and in person whenever possible
● Empower them by inviting them to identify solutions to improve their situation
● Connect them with your agency’s peer support team (if you don’t have one, Carey Group can help you develop one) and/or with the employee assistance program
● Reach out to team members with whom the employee has an established, trusting relationship and request their support
By recognizing the signs of trauma, stress, burnout, and other mental-health related symptoms commonly experienced by justice system employees, you are better able to swiftly respond in a manner that is supportive and focused on wellness.
Quality Assurance and Organizational Improvement
Evidence-based standard operating procedures (SOPs), policies, and practices, combined with a system of checks and balances to ensure SOPs are followed to fidelity, are vital to improvements in the organization.
It isn’t uncommon to identify or experience an internal process that either doesn’t make sense, isn’t working, conflicts with justice reform and evidence-based decision making, and/or negatively impacts employee wellness.
When these processes are identified, asking the 5 Whys (Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?) helps to get to the root of the problem, which is integral to solving problems and improving processes; especially processes that involve human factors and interactions. For best results, the 5 Whys can and should be asked of employees directly involved in a process because they are better able to expound on why the process is in place, right or wrong.
Giving voice to employees involved in processes in need of improvement builds buy-in, reinforces the importance of their role and skills in the organization, and empowers them to lead with intention on future assignments and duties.
Employees with duties specific to quality assurance should also be involved in these conversations and invited to answer the 5 Whys from their perspective. While some “whys” may be related to federal, state, county, or city requirements, reviewing the “whys” provides an opportunity to reassess implementation and processes, as well as to confirm quality assurance.
Through this collaborative assessment process, the organization is better able to define, measure, analyze, improve, and control (DMAIC) quality assurance and improvements throughout the organization. The following steps can help build a strong, supportive workforce that will, in turn, build and deploy strong, evidence-based SOPs, policies, and practices:
● Lead with intention and empower all employees to do so
● Have a strong vision and clear strategic plan
● Swiftly address situations that prevent progress, collaboration, and respect among team members, agency partners, stakeholders, and community members
● When safely and feasibly possible, let mistakes be learning, not punitive, opportunities—correct and redirect
● Invite and teach with questions
● Request feedback and ideas
● Implement innovative ideas and don’t get hung up on those that fail, learn from them
● Leverage the power of differences
● Create environments where employees learn implicitly and by example
● Have hard conversations early, often, and with empathy
● Be open to criticism
Building a strong justice system workforce is a continuous activity that begins with recruitment and continues all the way to retirement.
Most individuals who are drawn to the criminal and juvenile justice system value the privilege of serving their community in a public safety role, strive for opportunities to lead or train others, seek a sense of purpose and meaning, and are focused on present day and post-retirement pay, benefits, health, and wellness. Leaders who consciously seek to nurture a work environment that promotes team spirit and camaraderie by implementing collaborative, flexible, innovative, and empowered ways of doing business are better able to hire and retain resilient employees, even in times of significant change.
For assistance with strategic thinking and planning required to assess your organization’s readiness to change, ability to manage the change, and to evaluate the progress made in achieving the desired change, contact Carey Group.
Carey Group (Consulting and Publishing) is a national consulting and publishing firm that equips justice system and behavioral health professionals with knowledge, skills, and tools that improve the lives of clients. We make this possible by providing an array of staff training, organizational consulting services, and evidence-informed intervention tools. Contact us today to learn more about our evidence-based training and consulting services.