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Reducing Security Officer Turnover


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The Problem

The rate of turnover in the contract security industry is legendary, with annual turnover rates averaging 200% or more at many client sites. High turnover results in increased costs for recruitment and training on an ongoing basis, and increases administrative expenses for both the client and the contract security company.

More importantly, high rates of turnover decrease the overall effectiveness of the contract security

force. It can take six months or more for security officers to become fully proficient at their duties, and having constant officer turnover means that there is a good chance that some or all officers on site during any given shift may be new and inexperienced. Inexperienced officers have less ability to detect unusual activity because of their unfamiliarity with the site, and are less able to make good decisions about what to do or not do.

Constantly having new and inexperienced security officers on site also reinforces the negative perception that many people have of security officers and can prevent employees from taking them seriously.

Isn't This The Security Company's Problem?

Many clients feel that reducing security officer turnover is entirely the responsibility of the contract security company. While the contract security company certainly has an important role to play, they cannot do it alone. In fact, many of the steps necessary to improve security officer retention can only be done by the client company. Only by working together can the client and the contract security company get a handle on the turnover problem.

It's The Low Pay, Right?

The rate of pay that security officers receive in some parts of the country is ridiculously low, with some officers being paid at the minimum wage or just slightly above. In many areas, security officers are paid less than any other class of worker, including food service and janitorial employees.

While improving the rate of officer pay is one important factor in reducing turnover, it is by no means the only factor. Security officers who are dissatisfied with their jobs often say that other issues are as important to them, or even more important to them, than the rate of pay that they receive. When examining these issues, most revolve around the conditions under which the security officer must


Some of the issues of importance to security officers include:

  • Being treated with respect by employees at the site where they are assigned to work.

  • Receiving clear direction about what they are supposed to be doing.

  • Having a professional work environment and properly functioning equipment.

  • Being supported by management when they enforce an established policy or procedure.

  • Doing work that they feel is important and valued.

  • Receiving acknowledgment when they are doing a good job.

  • Having a realistic schedule that allows them to get enough rest between shifts and gives them enough hours of pay to live on.

  • Having medical and retirement benefits.

  • Feeling that they are being listened to.


As you can see, many things of importance to the security officer revolve around they way that they are treated rather than what they are paid. Many of the changes that can greatly improve working conditions for officers center around improving they way that they are managed, and can be implemented at little of no additional cost.

Things That Can Improve Working Conditions for Security Officers

The following are some suggested changes for improving security officer working conditions at your site:

Treat Security Officers with Respect

Security officers are treated as second-class citizens at many sites, and often are insulted or  ignored by the company's regular employees. Senior management at the client company should set the tone for treating security officers with respect and make it clear that abuse of security officers will not be tolerated.


Get To Know Your Officers

Client company employees, especially at the management level, should make a point to introduce themselves to the security officers and if possible, try and remember their names. Something as simple as saying "hello" to a person by name can go a long way in improving working conditions for a security officer.

The person responsible for security at the client company should attempt to personally welcome new security officers to the job when they are first assigned to the site. This should be done for every new officer, including those that work at night and on weekends.

Provide Security Officers with Clear Direction

Security officers should be provided with clear written instructions that describe their job responsibilities and the policies and procedures that they must follow. Adequate training should be provided to officers and this training should be consistent with the written instructions. All verbal directions given to officers should be consistent with the written instructions. Security officers should never be asked by employees of the client company to deviate from written procedures without the request going through the proper channels.

Stand Behind Security Officers When They Do the Right Thing

Security officers should receive the full backing of the client company's leadership team when the officer follows established procedures, even if this offends a client company employee. For example, if procedures require that all visitors to a facility sign-in, the officer should not be reprimanded when he insists that the company president's wife also follow this procedure.

Having written instructions that are constantly being overridden by a set of "unwritten rules" is a surefire way to frustrate even the best security officer and should be avoided at all costs. If there is a legitimate reason to have an exception to a rule, it should be clearly documented in the security officer's written instructions.

Acknowledge Excellent Performance

Security officers who do an excellent job should be immediately acknowledged. For example, if an officer spots a water leak in the computer room and reports it before it can cause damage, he should receive an acknowledgment of this from a member of the client company's senior management team. A simple written note costs little to send, yet can mean a great deal to the individual security officer receiving it.

You should also consider adopting a "Security Officer of the Month" program where officers who perform above and beyond the call of duty can be officially recognized. Officers who win this award should be given a certificate and some type of small gift (such as a gift card for a local restaurant.)

Provide a Professional Working Environment

Many security offices and guardhouses are cramped, cluttered places that don't appear to have been cleaned in years. Patrol vehicles issued to officers are often beaten up wrecks that don't run dependably. Flashlights, two-way radios and other equipment issued to security officers is often in poor condition and is unreliable.

Security officers perform best when they are given a professional working environment that includes professional-grade tools and equipment. In order to get an officer to act as a professional, you must first treat him or her as one.

While security offices and guardhouses don't have to be built like the Taj Mahal, they should be clean, adequately-sized, and provide a professional working environment for your security officers. Security workspaces should be serviced by your janitorial staff and cleaned regularly just like any other workspace in the company.

The tools and equipment used by your security officers should be up-to-date and in good working condition. The costs of routinely repairing and replacing equipment should be included in your annual security budget.

Encourage Open Lines of Communication With Security Officers

The security officers at each site should meet as a group at least twice per year. Officers should be paid to attend these meetings to encourage full participation. The primary purpose of these meetings is to provide updates to officers on security procedures for the site and to give officers an opportunity to air their grievances and express their ideas and opinions.

The person responsible for security at the client company should regularly attend security officer meetings so that he or she can directly hear security officer opinions without them being filtered through the contract security company's site supervisor or branch manager.

Educate Security Officers About Your Business

Efforts should be made to educate security officers on the client company's business: what it does, who it serves, what types of operations are involved, etc. This information should be included in the initial training curriculum for each officer, and reinforced through ongoing continuing educational activities.

Managers from various departments at the client company should be asked to periodically attend security officer meetings and provide a brief presentation explaining to the officers what their business unit does.

Create Realistic Schedules

Creating a schedule that meets the security needs of a business at a reasonable cost can be challenging, but responsibility for solving scheduling problems should not be placed on the backs of individual security officers. Asking a security officer to drive all the way across town to cover a two-hour shift, or asking a officer that got off duty at 2:00 AM to report back at 8:00 AM the same day, is unrealistic and inconsiderate to the needs of the security officer.

It is recommended that officers not work more than 12 consecutive hours in any 24 hour period,  and for not more than 60 hours in any seven-day period. Off-duty periods should be scheduled to provide for an uninterrupted eight-hour sleep cycle.

Officers should receive a minimum of four hours of pay anytime that they are called in. Schedules should be balanced so that all officers receive an adequate number of hours to live on. Attempts should be made to accommodate any special scheduling requests of individual officers when it can be done so without impacting the business.

Make Company "Perks" Available to Security Officers

Many client companies offer a range of perquisites to their employees, including things such as free parking, health and fitness clubs, cafeterias, and company stores. In most cases, these company "perks" are for company employees only, and are off limits to the employees of contractors, such as contract security officers.

It is suggested that the client company rethink this policy, and consider offering at least some perks to security officers for free or at a reduced cost. The financial impact of doing this can be minimal to the company, while adding a few benefits will be appreciated by the security officers and can greatly change their perception of their job.

Security Officer Pay

Quality contract security officers prefer to work at the sites that offer the best pay and the best working conditions. Once assigned to such a site, officers want to stay there, and generally perform at a high level so that they can maintain their position. The result: much lower officer turnover and better quality officers.

Trying to cut corners on officer pay can be false economy. Paying the absolute lowest rate may appear to reduce costs, but in actuality costs more because of increased administrative and training expenses.

Often paying only one or two dollars per hour above the median market rates can attract the best quality officers and greatly reduce officer turnover. Increasing the rate of officer pay by a dollar or two usually only increases the total annual cost of providing security services by 10% to 20%.  In our opinion, this is a small price to pay for improved security officer performance.

It is recommended that clients conduct a survey of the rates that security officers are being paid in their community. Information on pay rates can be obtained by talking with your peers at other facilities, and by looking at recruiting postings on job boards and on services such as Craigslist.

Once rates of pay in your community have been established, create a chart that allows you to see how the rates that your company is paying compares to that being paid at other sites. If the rate that you are paying is significantly below that being paid at other sites, this is something that should be further evaluated. The value of any benefits provided should be included in your pay rate evaluation. Many people working as security officers greatly value things such as medical benefits, and may be happy working for a lower rate of pay at a site that provides such benefits.


If you questions about this article, or need help in reducing security officer turnover at your site, please

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