The Risks and Spread of Burnout in Law Enforcement

The popularity of self-care is interesting because it should go without saying that we should take care of ourselves. Self-care tactics seem to be going the route of diet culture where every month there is a new way to hack happiness, be less stressed, look younger, and feel better. Regardless of the specifics of these self-care routines, they share a commonality in the fact that they all take effort. It takes time, motivation, and commitment to incorporate new self-care practices into everyday life and to find what works best for an individual. Just as the practice itself will differ from person to person, so will the amount of self-care required to reach or maintain a stable place in their mental health. Because of the high stress environment of law enforcement, made even more stressful by the current climate in this country, it is imperative that law enforcement officials practice self-care not only for their own mental health and safety, but for that of the general public as well. Without a proper balance or outlet to handle the stress, officers can easily get burned out, putting everyone at risk.

One side effect of high stress jobs is the possibility of burnout. Burnout is defined by Chauhan as “a severe psychological and physical outcome of prolonged and high levels of stress at work” (2009: 441). Burnout is also often accompanied by “illness, increased substance abuse, and personal relationship difficulties” (Hill, 2004). In addition to workplace burnout, this phenomenon is seen in students who have rigorous and difficult courses as well as athletes who grind all day, every day to the point where they do not enjoy playing their sport anymore. The three stages of burnout are stagnation, detachment, and emotional exhaustion (Chauhan, 2009). When it comes to burnout in law enforcement roles, the second and third stages are where the danger to the individual and the public come into play. When an officer is detached from a situation, they are apathetic and are less able to connect with the individuals involved, resulting in poor performance. The final stage of burnout is also characterized by apathy, doubt in self-efficacy, and lack of sense of accomplishment. When an officer does not care, they cannot think clearly and in the best interest of the public. This creates a dangerous environment for both parties.

Law enforcement jobs will always be stressful. It comes with the territory of dealing with the public, responding to distress calls, seeing all levels of crime, and generally putting oneself at risk every day. Misery truly does love company and the same goes for burnout. Because negative events affect overall well-being more than positive events (Diener & Oishi, 2005), law enforcement officers are at greater risk of diminished happiness due to their above average exposure to negative situations. Furthermore, in departments where the officers and staff spend countless hours together, burnout can spread like a virus and employees can be “made miserable by tyrannical supervisors, abusive spouses, and vindictive friends” (Diener & Oishi, 2005: 164). So, how can burnout and other stress disorders be prevented if the stress itself cannot be taken out of the job? By changing the approaches to which those in particularly high stress environments handle the stress, burnout can be mitigated. Across the board there are generally standard findings as to what tactics work best to handle stress. For example, exercise, sunshine, spending time with friends and family, and eating well (Hill, 2004) are all logical and beneficial ways to put the pressures of the workplace aside and be in the moment. In addition to these, some that are not as commonly discussed including helping others and actively being grateful for what one does have, rather than dwelling on what they lack.

Just as individuals can help themselves combat burnout through the techniques listed above, employers can facilitate an environment where burnout is less likely to occur. By monitoring employees for signs of stress and burnout, department heads and supervisors can catch issues early on. Chauhan (2009) details two questionnaires, the Job Involvement Questionnaire and the Maslach Burnout Inventory, that are specifically designed to identify the level of risk an employee has of reaching burnout. Furthermore, just as misery loves company, so does joy. Leading by example is an excellent way for supervisors to set the tone in a department and demonstrate that mental health and a proper work/life balance is valued and critical. Because law enforcement officials have so much responsibility, it is essential that they do not reach the point of burnout, not only for their own safety and well-being, but that of the public as well.



Chauhan, D. (2009). Effect of Job Involvement on Burnout. Indian Journal of Industrial Relations, 44(3), 441-453. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from

Diener, E., & Oishi, S. (2005). The Nonobvious Social Psychology of Happiness. Psychological Inquiry, 16(4), 162-167. Retrieved April 24, 2021, from

Hill, A. (2004). PREVENTING BURNOUT: LIVE WELL, LAUGH OFTEN. GPSolo, 21(7), 56-60. Retrieved April 23, 2021, from


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  1. Great post, Danielle. I liked how you mentioned “Leading by example is an excellent way for supervisors to set the tone in a department and demonstrate that mental health and a proper work/life balance is valued and critical.” This is something I talk about with my staff. I care about their mental health and getting their time off is important to re-charge to avoid burnout.

  2. Interesting post! I think its great that you stressed the importance of self within the criminal justice system. It is important, to have great health simply because for instance sleep deprivation can lead to poor job performance and unstable thinking. Like you said with great powers comes with great responsibility and for law enforcement to be present is essential.

  3. Hi Danielle,

    Great topic you discussed! We take for granted how many distressing situations police officers are regularly put in and how most of them are able to handle it with grace. It’s important for the head of a department to emphasize the benefits of self-care and make it a priority to educate officers and even offer group events outside of work focused on mental health.

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