Just as in any workplace, public safety answering points come with their own unique set of problems and sources of employee friction. But in the high-stress environment of a PSAP, these issues are often magnified, causing high rates of turnover.
In order to make your PSAP run as smoothly as possible, and avoid common workforce problems, it’s a good idea to put preventative measures in place before these issues need addressing. But even if you’re already experiencing friction in your 911 dispatch center, taking the bull by the horns and committing to tackling the problem head-on will go a long way towards restoring calm.
To help, we’ve come up with some suggestions for solving common PSAP workforce problems.
When dispatchers are on the phones, they know exactly who does what, and in what order. But when it comes to other office responsibilities away from the phones, sometimes it’s not as clear-cut. Gather your employees and lead a discussion where everyone shares their understanding of the role they play in the PSAP. Everyone is responsible for contributing to a positive work environment, no matter what their job description.
Internal communications within a PSAP can be the source of much unintentional and avoidable friction. Hold a training session for your staff about being careful in their communications, and considering how the receiver of their message might interpret their words. Those sending messages should be as clear as possible, and those receiving them should ask for clarification rather than jumping to conclusions. Avoid expressing your frustrations in messages because we need to remember that everyone is doing their part the best they can. No need to bring someone else down, or stress them out, because you are frustrated.
If change is forced upon people with little or no explanation, it’s natural for them to resist. However, if you involve your PSAP workforce in the decision-making process, allowing them to give input, and then fully explain the need for any changes, they will be much more likely to cooperate. The result reaction will be a lot more cooperative if you ease your workforce into all the changes. You could even hold workshops or training sessions and work with them through the changes so that there isn't any confusion and they know what is expected.
It’s important for an environment of mutual trust and respect that all employees be held to the same standards, and be held accountable for failing to live up to them. In cases of chronic tardiness, sick leave abuse, skipping meetings, and other negative behaviors, supervisors need to make sure that consequences are enforced, so that those who do follow the rules don’t feel taken advantage of. As supervisors, it is important that you lead by example and keep up with your own standards. This way, your employees will feel completely equal and will help motivate them to keep up with your standards as well.
If PSAP employees experience a conflict, and there is no official process in place to help them resolve it, it may fester and grow until it affects the work environment significantly, leading to high turnover. Institute a conflict mediation process in which those affected are encouraged to talk out their differences in the presence of a group of trained peers, in order to work through the problem before it is magnified. When a conflict arises, try to deal with it immediately and figure out how the conflicts begin so they can be avoided next time.
It’s a common complaint that people know something is a problem, and yet never do anything to address it. Sometimes that’s because of an assumption that this is just the way things are in a PSAP. But by acknowledging that something is a real problem for your employees, such as stress or negativity, and then actively looking for a way to mitigate that problem, you will gain the appreciation and gratitude of your employees. Make sure that you are considerate and accommodating with your teams so that if they do have problems, your team members feel comfortable coming to you with them.
Avoiding these 6 problems in your PSAP takes work and dedication, both on your part and that of your employees. Setting a few guidelines in from the very beginning may help you avoid many of the conflicts. But in the end, the payoff will be well worth it, when your public safety answering point is running smoothly with no employee friction.