Do you remember your first job? I am willing to say you probably encountered situations and people that made you say, “If I ever am the boss one day, I will be sure NOT to do that!”. We all have experienced positive and negative work environments. One of the most common complaints is that once a person gets promoted, they forget what it is like to be on the lower rung. In any business, stress can become the everyday norm when the overall tone of an organization is dysfunctional. Of course, this leads to additional stress and discontent across all employees. Some places exhibit one or two issues while others can be a mess from start to finish. Any business will suffer if operating under poor leadership, but if we look at first responders and those in the military environment, that stress can bring already pressured employees to a cracking point.
Lack of Administrative Support
One of the quickest ways to bring the morale of your crews down and pile on the stress is to not back up your employees. You can roll out all the SOP’s, employee handbooks, and motivational material available, but it is all for naught if you cannot back it up. For example, let’s take a scenario from EMS. John Doe is your Shift A Captain. He is a great employee and has been with the department for years. Following his promotion, you have noticed he seems easily agitated, or maybe displaying a flat affect when you are rolling out new ideas. While it is true that with any added responsibility comes added stress, could it be there is more to Captain Doe’s lackadaisical approach?
This scenario has played out across the nation in departments small and large. The problem is that you have a willing and competent leader, solid SOP’s in place, and yet no follow-through. Usually, the biggest stress area involves squad discipline. A team member makes a mistake; your shift leader addresses the situation per protocol, and yet you shake your head and dismiss the employee’s action without following through with procedure. Over time, this can demoralize squad members, who strive to go above and beyond, and it gives the green light to those employees who have no regard for policy.
Police, Fire, EMS, and the military all require a broad knowledge base and specific skills sets. After obtaining their initial certification and licensure, an employee should receive ongoing training at their home service. While an organization should not provide ALL the training for an individual, a significant portion should come from this source. These are all high-stress jobs, and initial certification is only a fraction of the complete package. Compare working at a new job like driving; we all pick up habits, some good and some bad. As an employer, if you set the standard for training and promote an atmosphere of learning, your employee is more likely to develop positive habits.
If you purchase new equipment for your crews and just throw it on the truck, what expectations do you have that most of the staff will utilize that equipment and will do so correctly?
Just as critical to the health of a service as training on new equipment or policies is providing quality training to newly promoted staff. Promoting someone without giving them any leadership training is the business equivalent of throwing someone who does not know how to swim immediately into deep water. Invest in that one person and their new role and the whole organization will benefit. Don’t, and you will quickly find yourself inundated with one mess after another.
Unfair Workload Distribution and Lack of Recognition
We have all heard the term “workhorse.” Moreover, many of us have been there at one time or another in our career. Regardless of the occupation, some people simply work harder, more efficiently, and are more dependable. One of the biggest causes of stress in the workplace is overworking your “workhorse.” Compare it to having kids. Say you have two children. One kid is always willing to help, jumps when you ask them to complete a chore, and never give you sarcastic answers or long, drawn out arguments as to why they should not have to empty the garbage. Your other child is the latter. Everything is a battle. After a while, you are tired and just need something done. So you depend on the first kid. Moreover, they quickly become your “go-to” person.
The same situation happens at work. Maybe you have that one police officer that always complains of what sector she is assigned. Maybe he cannot keep a partner because everyone refuses to work with him. So you find yourself assigning that super-busy sector to that officer that doesn’t complain. You know that one officer is so laid-back, you always put them with the one that nobody else will tolerate. Before long, you notice your two dependable employees seem less active, moodier, and perhaps less effective as previously.
We live in a time where sadly it seems everyone wants an award for something. Rewarding everyone for merely participating has led to a general mentality of entitlement and lack of motivation. However, there are times when individual recognition is useful and even necessary. If you have an employee that consistently performs above the rest, point that out. Maybe one of the crews makes it a habit of going above and beyond their required assignments. Show them you notice and appreciate their actions. A simple acknowledgment can go a long way in lifting someone up and reducing stress.
Inadequate Equipment and Communications
Anyone who has worked in an administrative position and dealt with a budget realizes many employees have unrealistic expectations as to the equipment and amenities that a service should provide. However, one way to bring down the pride of an organization and make your employees feel their work does not matter is to expect them to work with inadequate equipment. Devise a plan that will help you work new equipment into your service. Doing this will show your staff you are invested in the work they are doing.
Everyone has cracked the joke, “But I did not get the memo.” Communications can be the downfall of an administration. Some people operate on a very “need-to-know basis” while others have no division between the Chief and the new employee still on probation. A suitable medium can alleviate many issues. Providing clear communication keeps your staff informed and can help keep the gossip channels closed. Confusing or conflicting communication causes staff to be unsure and lose respect in their leaders.
Politics and Poor Supervisors
These two causes of stress frequently are seen together. Politics can occur in the smallest of settings. One or two people out to make it to the top can do significant damage to an organization. They will sell out anyone, manipulate, and scheme to achieve their goals. This toxic behavior leads to an environment of distrust and disdain for leaders if not handled correctly.
Supervisors can influence an employee positively or negatively. Usually, the leaders who have a “do as I say, not as I do” mentality find themselves with crew members who regularly balk at their direction. Supervisors who bark orders and expect everyone to respond the same can find themselves frequently in conflict and believe “discipline issues” to be the problem. On the flip side, supervisors who try to be a friend and a boss tend to be walked on and do not handle conflict well. Providing solid training to supervisory staff can provide them with alternatives to what they instinctively feel led to do.
Developing an organization that is smooth running and efficient takes time. Don’t rush the process or you will find yourself having to patch up the holes later. Invest in your staff and provide them with the training, equipment, and supervisory staff that will enable them to perform at their best. Recognize that any additional stress you place on your crew can result in fatal mistakes in their job duties.
Frontline Responder Services offers free training to assist first responder agencies and organizations in dealing with Organizational & Administrative Stress. Our trainings can be tailored to the needs of your department, and will benefit both the members and the administration. Please contact me at JohnB@SproutHealthGroup.com or 215-833-1572 for more information.
John Becker Jr. has experience as a police officer, clinician, and outreach professional. John also possesses a unique understanding of substance abuse among first responders, having overcome addiction in his own life. He is the Director of First Responder Services, for Sprout Health Group and was instrumental in developing and implementing Frontline Responder Services. John is an active member of the Montgomery County (PA) Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) Team and is certified by the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation (ICISF) for individual and group interventions. As a member of the Employee Assistance Professionals Association (EAPA), John is skilled in working with unions, human resource departments, internal and external EAP’s, department counseling units, and peer support organizations. John is also a member of the National Police Suicide Foundation. Additionally, John has provided training to agencies and organizations, throughout the country, on topics such as stress, trauma, suicide, and addiction, as they relate to first responders. He can be reached at 215-833-1572 or JohnB@SproutHealthGroup.com