9-1-1; What Is Your Emergency?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Showing Team Members That They Matter

Taken from Public Safety Communications, an APCO International Publication, December 18, 2013
Written by Cindra Dunaway, 9-1-1 dispatcher for the Lee County (Fla.) Sheriff's Office.  Contact her via email at cdunaway@sheriffleefl.org

I've wanted to write about the turnover in comm centers for a long time.  No matter where you go across the country, one of the biggest complaints you'll hear is how hard it is to keep competent people in the call center.  The reason I've stayed away from the subject for as long as I have is that I honestly didn't think that I could offer a workable solution -- the holy grail of communications.

Our center offers a cash incentive to communications personnel as long as they continue to work in the center.  They also ask that you sign a two-year commitment to the center so that you're unable to transfer out to another division during that timeframe.  This serves to dissuade people from using communications as a stepping stone for a career at the department.  However, commitments and incentives don't seem to make a difference to a lot of people.

In fact, my center has been going through a mass exodus for the last several months.  It seems like this is a trend that is occurring in centers across the country.  This got me wondering, why?  Why is everyone leaving?  What, if anything, can be done to help minimize the turnover?  Does everyone offer exit interviews at their department?  If you do, do you encourage people to be honest and use the results to improve your division?  Many times I've heard people asked whether they spoke honestly in an exit interview, and many times I've heard them reply that they didn't feel that it would make a difference.  It was just easier to say "Thanks for the opportunity," and move on.

Recently our traffic division sent a letter to our director that thanked the staff for our patience with all of their traffic ops (which they do one once a week).  They acknowledged the amount of extra radio traffic that goes into our already busy days and wanted to recognize our professionalism and say "thank you!"  Just a small gesture, but recognition like that from a peer can go a long way.

I tell you that anecdote in order to ask you this: Do you appreciate your employees?  Do you spend time in your center getting to know your folks?  I have written about getting along and supporting each other, as well as gossip, bullying in the workplace and supervisors getting to know their subordinates.  And I started to realize that maybe the answer could lie in one, if not all, of these articles.

In all of the people I've trained in my 20 years, I've only had one tell me that the responsibility of calltaking and dispatching was too overwhelming for her.  So managers ask yourself, what's the percentage of people leaving to pursue another career, relocate or retire?

Why are people leaving?  I've heard some say it's the shift work, but I have to wonder how true that is when they knew about the hours from the get-go.  Instead, it has to be a combination of things and it's just easier for them to say it's the hours.

Sure, the hours can be hard on the body and family life, but if they were the one thing that was an issue and you loved everything else about your career, would you still leave?  I assume that most people wouldn't.  Instead, I think that deep down people want to feel valued.  They want to know what they do makes a difference, especially in our line of work, where being financially compensated is low on the list of "Why I work in public safety" for most people.

So I'd like to ask you: How do you take care of your employees?  Do you know them?  Do you let them shine?  Do you praise them as well as discipline them?  Are you there for the bad calls, ready to lift them up, shake their hands, or pat them on the back?  Do you remember them when they're working holidays while you're home with your family?

A lot of us old-timers came from a time when the thought was that you had to sink or swim; I like to refer to that time period as the school of hard knocks.  But times are changing.  Our careers are so specialized that you can't just throw anyone in our chairs anymore.  The length of time it takes these days to develop a well-trained and accomplished 9-1-1 professional goes far beyond showing them where the phone and radios are.

So how do we keep these valuable team members in the center?  Show them you care about them and let them know how important their job is.  The more you're involved in what's going on in your center, the less likely you'll be blindsided when someone turns in their letter of resignation.

As one of my favorite supervisors used to say, "Perception is everything."  And if the perception is that administration doesn't care or understand them then it becomes more difficult to retain an employee.  Look at it as investing in your team -- those few extra minutes of your time will be worth it.  You can also look at it this way: If you have happy and loyal employees then they will do their jobs well, and a job well done reflects positively on you and your center.  Then hopefully you'll have a roomful of seasoned veterans that you can be proud of.

No comments:

Post a Comment