9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Knowing Your Team: Taking the Time to Learn Who Your Subordinates Are

Taken from Public Safety Communications, November 11, 2013
Written by Cindra Dunaway, 9-1-1 Dispatcher for the Lee County (FL) Sheriff's Office.  You can contact her via email at cdunaway@sheriffleefl.org

Supervisors, how well do you know your people?  I mean really know them?  Do you know if they are married or where they're from?

Now I'm not suggesting that you become their new BFF, but you should show a genuine interest in your subordinates.  I know, I know, there are probably one or two folks who you'd rather not get to know at all, much less work with, but that's another article all together.  In all seriousness, there are several benefits to taking a little extra time to get to know your people.

Most people love talking about themselves and their family, so it shouldn't be all that hard to get a little intel.  It really doesn't have to take a lot of your time, just take a few minutes at the beginning of your shift or during some downtime.  Ask about their significant other, if they have any special plans coming up on their next days off or how school is going if they are a student.  If you take a little time to get to know your folks, it shows you are interested in them as a person, not just another cog in the machine.  It makes them feel significant and that they are part of the team.

If you get to know a little about who your people are outside of work, you may be able to cut off any potential issues they may have while under your supervision.  For example, say you have a great employee whom you never have problems with.  They are always on time and you never have to follow up on anything they do.  Then all of a sudden, you notice they are coming in late, you start getting complaints about the way they are handling their calls and they are short and withdrawn.  What do you do?  How do you handle it?

Do you write them up and file it away in their personnel jacket, or do you try to take the time to find out if there is an underlying problem?  Is there something happening at home that is affecting his/her job performance?  Is there bullying going on in the workplace?  Are they going through a divorce?  Or is something else going on?

My point is that if you have a general knowledge about this employee's home life and background, then the red flags may shoot up a lot sooner.  You might be able to cut off the problems before they fester into larger ones that will need to be addressed by your next in command or human resources.

Can you offer them an employee assistance program (EAP) or peer counseling?  Maybe it's a call they handled that's sticking with them longer than usual.  Maybe they need critical incident stress debriefing (CISD) or critical incident stress management (CISM).  No matter how long you have been doing this job, there is always a possibility of a call getting to you.  It's OK to need a little help once in a while.

Maybe all they need from you is an empathetic ear.  A lot of us public safety workers have a personality that makes us bottle everything up.  We like to be in control at all times; people look to us for help not the other way around.  I remember at my former agency, due to staffing issues it kept getting harder and harder for us to do our jobs every day.  I remember thinking, "I can't let them know the work load is getting to me.  If I, as a senior operator, show any weakness, how are these trainees going to get through their training?"  I really wish I knew then what I have come to know and understand now.  I could have saved myself so many sleepless nights and headaches.

So how do you handle your people?  Do you try to be open and understanding?  Or are you the strict "just do your job" kind of supervisor?  I'm not suggesting that your employees don't need to take some personal responsibilities for their own careers.  But I am suggesting that you make yourself approachable if they should need to come to you about a problem they're having.  Wouldn't you rather intercept any potential incidents before they cause that undesirable spotlight that always follows us when something goes wrong to focus on your division or agency?

At a recent CISM training class, I met a field supervisor with my local EMS.  She mentioned that she had a member of her shift who had an anger issue (whenever he got stressed or impatient).  His partners hated working with him and she regularly received complaints about him from co-workers and the public.  In an effort to save his job and salvage this employee, she got him into anger management classes and sent him to an EAP counselor.  She makes sure she talks to any new partner he is assigned so she can give them a heads up on his triggers so they are aware and not afraid to call her if there are any problems.  She also mentioned that she keeps an ear out and can tell when he is getting on the verge of being stressed out by the tone of his voice.  She will then make a trip to his location and check in with him and defuse him, so to speak.  She shared that now he is doing much better and has fewer outbursts and complaints.

Did she go above and beyond as a supervisor?  Maybe, but she helped save this man's job and now he is an excellent EMT and is working on improving himself as a person and an employee.

So think about it and spend a little extra time getting to know your folks.  We all come from different backgrounds and cultures.  What is stressful to you may not be stressful to someone else due to their life experiences.  We also have to realize that we are working with multi-generations.  What was never acceptable to us older folks is totally normal for the younger generation.  So, get out there and start chatting with your people -- you might just end up liking them.

Be safe my family.