Are Security Officers Difficult to Motivate? Yes, and Here’s How to Overcome It
Security Officers may be some of the most difficult employees to motivate. Many, by their own admission are either finishing out their careers, waiting for a better opportunity, or just plain lazy. (That last one was not an admission, but an observation). I have to admit: I was one of the ones biding time waiting for a law enforcement job to come along – until I entered the Hotel/Casino business. (But that’s another story).
Having started out on the front lines and falling into one of the categories above, I feel I know what motivates security officers. First, just as they said in their interview, they want to help others. Most of us feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when we help someone through a difficult situation and use our unique resources to resolve it. Second, they may not have admitted to this one, but most want some action. That one percent of the time where we get our adrenaline pumping a little bit is often the most satisfying part of our job. Third, and I really doubt anyone will admit to this one, is respect. As security officers, in a position of authority, we like to be looked up to, give orders, and walk around looking handsome and professional.
Ask management if these motivators fit into their profile of the perfect security officer, and they will definitely like number one (helping others), but probably are not too keen on the second and third: providing action or bossing others around. Most business operators want a security force that is helpful, loyal, honest, and efficient. Imagine if you could combine the expectations of employees and management so that everyone is happy. Actually, you can give the officer those three things he wants (and more) and achieve a highly successful security department (and more). That is our job as security professionals – to provide for the employee and the executives and operate a highly effective department – and here is how it is done.
Image. Everyone wants a positive image. The officer wants to look good, smart, effective, and professional. What a coincidence? That is what we want, right?
Let’s start with uniforms. Uniforms are dependent on the type of business, and even geography. First, decide on the message your uniform is trying to convey based on the objectives of the department. A “high-class” hotel may want to present proper ladies and gentlemen that dress similar to the clientele and the other employees. A factory may need something more utilitarian. An amusement park may need a distinctive law-enforcement look to prevent criminal activity, relate to children, and provide visibility. I suggest asking your employees what they want. What are they comfortable wearing? What do they think gets them the most respect? What uniform allows them to use their equipment more effectively? After our property began allowing employees to wear Hawaiian shirts on Fridays as part of a promotion, I asked our officers if they wanted to try something like that. I was surprised to find that the overwhelming majority said “No way!” and begged me not to make them wear colorful shirts. They felt that nobody would take them seriously, respect them, or even be able to pick them out in the crowd. What I expected to be a reward or a motivator turned out to be a punishment, so I did not do it. Try asking yours what they think.
“Guards." What do your employees want to be called? This is a very big deal for most security officers. A guard is someone who stands by a door controlling access – at best; and a piece of metal that keeps the chain from falling off your bike – at worst. We expect much more from our officers than guarding, such as rational thinking, discretionary decisions, and some personality. This is a couple steps (at least) above a guard and your employees should be recognized for this skill. Try calling them “officers” and see how their morale and self-confidence improves. This is a big change for the rest of the organization as well. They will require some time to acclimate to this way of thinking. This morale booster costs you nothing except a little effort.
Recognition. As I previously mentioned, officers enjoy the satisfaction of doing a good job and solving problems for others. Most do not require financial reward, though that is nice, but love being recognized in front of their fellow employees. A memo on the board does not quite do it, though it is better than nothing. Try mentioning something an officer did well in your daily briefing or other meeting. Or take it a step further and have the officer explain what she did to everyone else and make it a training process. What could be more rewarding than having something that you did being used to train others? Whenever I get a letter or comment from a patron or other employee acknowledging the efforts of one of my officers I write the employee a thank you note. I hand-write it and sometimes I throw in a gift card for coffee or a burger. I make the shift manager deliver it in person with his own thank you because it makes him look good. This is guaranteed to foster “Aw shucks” embarrassment all around. They will probably cowboy-up and toss it aside as “just doing my job, ma’am”. I bet they will take it straight home to their significant other and gush through dinner. This is also low-cost and worth taking out of your own pocket, if necessary.
In speaking with my officers, I found that proper training and equipment is very important to them. This improves their confidence and gives them more tools to help their guests and employees. Take a look at some of your equipment, especially the basics like radios, uniforms and so forth. Spend the money to make them work correctly. Nothing is more frustrating, and likely to cause more damage, than radio batteries that are worn and do not hold a charge, dead spots when transmitting and receiving, worn uniforms, and anything else that does not work well. Your officers consider all of these things, especially the radios (and weapons if you use them) important to their safety, so take this issue seriously and ask them what they think. In the long run, you will save money because good equipment is usually better cared for than the bad stuff.
Training is the most important component of your program. The efficiency of your team is only as good as the training you invest in it. I put a lot of money into training so our officers can be problem-solvers instead of guards. Initial training is the most costly as it generally takes the employee out of commission while he learns instead of fulfilling a post. This cost will pay off for your organization if you properly vet your new hires then spend some time teaching them the culture of the property and the company as well as some legal and technical skills. A properly trained officer will work faster, produce more results, provide better guest service, and reduce liability – all of which save time and money in the long run.
Whether or not you provide adequate training at start-up, consider in-service training as a necessary supplement. Whether it is to catch up on training that was missed or to keep the officer abreast of policy changes or more advanced skills, ongoing training boosts morale, increases self-confidence, and keeps everyone engaged. Remember the “action”-oriented employee I mentioned in the beginning? Imagine an active shooter at your property and a security force that has no idea how to respond. Who covers exits, who rallies evacuating employees, who directs and waits for police response, who prevents bystanders from entering a dangerous area? In the absence of drills and training, security will panic like everyone else. The added benefit of these training scenarios is the “action” guy enjoys these drills almost as much as the real thing. He gets to satisfy that part of his ego, you get to observe how your staff will perform, and the company gets reduces costs by having a proper response to emergencies.
The recurring theme to these motivating suggestions is “Ask Them”. There are several ways to do that. First, get out there next to them and do their jobs with them. Not just once, but as often as you can. Work this into your schedule even if it means you miss an episode of American Idol each week. There is nothing that influences their perception of your leadership, teamwork, and dedication than these couple hours per week. While you are walking a post, investigating an accident, completing a log, or whatever, ask questions and listen. Is there a better way to do X? How do you get past these challenges? What would make your job easier? The answers may surprise you. A second option on obtaining feedback (and I suggest doing both) is to have focus groups. Most large companies do this already, but not with Security, and they may have an outline that you can follow. You need to be careful not to make a bitch session or a mob scene. Go in with a plan; assign a facilitator to keep on track; give officers boundaries for solving problems. We did this with a department that had very low morale, high turnover, and almost zero production value. (Yes, security has production value). Empowering the officers to come up with solutions as a group was inspiring. They not only came up with reasonable ideas, but they kept costs low, identified that bottom 20 percent that holds the team back and improved their own morale.
We would like all of our security officers to be self-motivating, but that is just not the reality. If it was, they would all aspire to having your job. Many employees, of all types, need some coaxing or at least some direction. That direction needs to come from you – not the self-appointed shop steward or leader of the group – but you only. And you cannot be expected to know what motivates everyone, so just Ask Them.