Feeling the Burn?

3 tips for treating (or avoiding) FTO burnout

By Daniel Greene  |   Mar 2, 2015

The role of field training officer is one of the most important assignments there is at any agency. FTOs, on behalf of the department, share their knowledge and skills with the incoming generation. They have first crack at developing the culture, attitude and work ethic of a young police officer.

It’s a role that must not be taken lightly, and it’s no surprise to say that most FTOs don’t take it lightly. In fact, most FTOs take their responsibilities very seriously. In the year 2000, the National Institute of Ethics completed what was at the time the nation’s largest study of ethical standards inside law enforcement. They found that the FTO was the most frustrated officer in the department.

Frustrated, angry and burned out, the FTO hits the road with their new and easily influenced police officer. This paints a gloomy picture, in so far as it’s accurate today. The good news is that the FTO can also be repaired. Following are three things the FTO and FTO manager can do to help avoid—or fix—FTO burn out.

Prepare them for success: According to the August 2013 edition of Police Chief Magazine, almost 55% of FTOs surveyed described their preparation and training as a newly appointed FTO as “marginal or non-existent.” That’s a big fail for their agencies. We all want the FTO to be highly trained and equipped to handle their new role as trainers, mentors, coaches and role models. The newly appointed FTO enters his or her new specialty with promise and capability. They should be given the resources and training necessary to be successful.

Never assume that the FTO is a natural born leader. None of us are. Enroll your new FTO into a basic FTO School. Find a school that covers topics like adult learning, generation studies, ethics and liability. The long-term success of the FTO can very well depend on the training they receive as rookie trainers.

Document, document, document: The same Police Chief Magazine article cites the number #1 most frustrating challenge to the FTO is “lack of administrative support.” It’s been my experience that lack of support from your chain of command usually sounds something like this, “We just don’t have the documentation to support …” If you’ve heard that before you’ve likely been disappointed and felt let down by your command staff.

My best advice on conquering this challenge is to eliminate that excuse. Beef up your documentation and strengthen your daily observation reports. Be sure that your performance evaluations include details on the trainee’s deficiencies, details on the training tips and techniques you’ve offered the OIT as well as any kind of extended remedial training they’ve received. Don’t forget to include examples of positive reinforcement and coaching. Including both of those things will help reassure your command that the program’s number first goal is the trainee’s success.

Find your real motivation: “When people of action cease to believe in a cause, they then begin to believe only in the action.” An unknown French philosopher was given credit for that quote. It rings very true with me. Having a purpose and mission to accomplish at work makes my job fulfilling. Hard work doesn’t wear us down, lack of purpose does. If you are an FTO or if you manage your agency’s FTO program, pay close attention to what drives you. What motivates you and your training officers? Is it a sense of accomplishment? Maybe appreciation for a job well done?

During WWII, General Motors Company lost a great deal of male employees to go fight in the war. Women began working in the plants and in the offices. GMC also transformed a number of their car-making facilities into war-machine-making facilities. Military vehicles of all shapes and sizes were now assembled inside their plants. GMC noticed that during this period of time their productivity and efficiency increased. But after the war, when male employees returned to work, production numbers fell back down to the levels they were at before the war. GMC hired a man by the name of Peter Drucker to investigate this phenomenon. He found that the reason the female employees worked so hard and produced so well was the purpose behind their mission. A noble cause that motivated them: The women of GMC knew that the vehicles they were producing were the very same vehicles their husbands and sons were driving while fighting in the war.

Law enforcement is a noble cause. Field training is a noble cause. Anger, frustration and burn out are easily diagnosed symptoms. If treated properly and quickly, the FTO can be saved and motivated again.

Always work to reignite the passion that brought you into this wonderful profession and keep your commitment to training the future of law enforcement.