“Take a Break!”: A Qualitative Study of Shift-Duty Police Officers’ On-The-Job Breaks

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Police Quarterly
2023, Vol. 26(1) 111137
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10986111221074907
Take a Break!:A
Qualitative Study of
Shift-Duty Police Off‌icers
On-The-Job Breaks
Shi Min Toh, MSc
and Eunae Cho, PhD
This qualitative study examined on-the-job breaks taken by shift-duty police off‌icers.
We explored the nature of on-the-job breaks among off‌icers, their perception of these
breaks as helping them to recover and replenish resources, and what factors shaped
their on-the-job breaks. Data were collected from 21 shift-duty police off‌icers via semi-
structured interviews. Findings show that on-the-job breaks were categorized into
off‌icial and unoff‌icial breaks, each of which had fairly distinctive characteristics. The
timing, activities engaged in during breaks, and subjective experiences during breaks
were thought to determine the effectiveness of on-the-job breaks. Off‌icers reported
that the adverse impacts of skipping a break tended to exceed the benef‌its of taking a
break. On-the-job breaks were shaped by various work and non-work factors. As the
f‌irst study delving into on-the-job breaks among shift-duty police off‌icers, this study
expands our understanding of specif‌ic strategies employed by police off‌icers to deal
with ongoing work demands.
recovery, rest breaks, job stress, shift work, law enforcement off‌icers
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Singapore Police Force, Singapore
Corresponding Author:
Eunae Cho, Nanyang Technological University, 48 Nanyang Avenue, Singapore 639818, Singapore.
Email: Eunae.iopsych@gmail.com
Policing is a highly stressful and demanding job that requires 24/7 presence. Police
forces all over the world face the challenge of keeping their off‌icers healthy while
meeting their core mission of maintaining public safety and security (Cartwright &
Roach, 2020;Morash et al., 2008;Violanti et al., 2017). Extensive research on the
occupation of policing has demonstrated the adverse impacts of the work hours (e.g.,
long hours, shift work; Barger et al., 2009;G. D. Bishop et al., 2007;Rajaratnam et al.,
2011;Vila et al., 2002) on police off‌icershealth. Furthermore, the demands of shift
work and the resulting health impairments among police off‌icers have been shown to
impact their on-the-job safety (e.g., Violanti et al., 2012) and performance (e.g., James
et al., 2018;Waggonner, 2012). Evidence to date demonstrates that promoting health
among police off‌icers is critically important not only for individual off‌icers but also for
operational effectiveness and eff‌iciency.
Despite the far-reaching implications for police off‌icershealth, shift work schedules
are inherent to policing. Furthermore, law enforcement agencies are limited in their
ability to reduce work hours or manipulate the work schedules of off‌icers in the current
environment of heightened security threats and concurrent resource constraints. These
unique circumstances call for research that identif‌ies alternative strategies to mitigate
the impact of shift work demands and facilitate off‌icersrecovery from job stress. Such
knowledge is necessary to properly equip off‌icers with the physical and mental re-
sources to best meet their job responsibilities.
With these concerns in mind, this study examined the on-the-job breaks taken by
shift-work police off‌icers in a Southeast Asian country. Considering various con-
straints, on-the-job breaks are likely a feasible means for police off‌icers to achieve
effective recovery from job stress. However, little is known about the nature of on-the-
job breaks among police off‌icers, how and if they perceive these breaks as helping their
recovery and resource replenishment, and what organizational and individual char-
acteristics affect their on-the-job breaks. In this study, we adopted a qualitative ap-
proach to obtain an in-depth understanding of these issues from the police off‌icers
This study advances police research by exploring on-the-job breaks among police
off‌icers. While much research has examined various stressors experienced by police
off‌icers (e.g., Adams & Mastracci, 2019;Barger et al., 2009;Gershon et al., 2009;
Toch, 2002), how off‌icers recover from the stress, particularly during their duties, has
received limited attention. Our research also contributes to the current scientif‌ic un-
derstanding of on-the-job recovery among shift workers. Despite the negative health
consequences associated with shift work, shift workers have been understudied,
perhaps because the very nature of their work (i.e., round-the-clock duties) makes it
diff‌icult for them to participate in research (Sonnentag et al., 2017). In terms of practical
value, this study provides a pragmatic understanding of how police off‌icers manage
their resources to successfully meet job demands while maintaining health. The impact
of this research is substantial, considering that proper recovery from job stress is shown
to ameliorate the detrimental effects of job stress on long-term as well as short-term
health outcomes (Demerouti et al., 2009;Sonnentag et al., 2017).
112 Police Quarterly 26(1)

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