Kimberly B. Turner
It takes about 35 seconds in a communication center to realize it is a stressful career. The reporting parties, officers, and firefighters we support are often the least of our stressors. As with any profession under the sun, our immediate supervisor may be the primary source of workplace stress.
Snap. That could be you.
In a dispatch environment, an untitled supervisor could be a training officer or lead in addition to the supervisor, manager, or director. Yes, that includes sworn personnel assigned to dispatch. Empowering employees in their work environment plays an integral role in their well-being (Kanter, 1977, 1993), and it is the availability and access to reliable resources, support mechanisms, and training that define empowerment. The other side of well-being at work is having work that challenges us as well as being given opportunities for growth and/or promotion.
Many of the components that comprise a healthy workplace are markedly absent in most dispatch centers. This is alarming, but it is not surprising.
Resources may be as simple as a pen or pencil to write with, an actual map that is current, a comfortable chair, a computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system that actually works, or alternatively having thorough policy and training manuals. Unfortunately, many dispatch centers are replete with missing resources. Our support mechanisms include constructive feedback that is often packaged as a work performance evaluation. When was the last time you received an annual appraisal on time that was not a boilerplate—or worse an exact copy—of last year’s appraisal with the dates changed?
As supervisors, we often do not assign value to resources or support mechanisms because we did not receive those things before being promoted. You know the old saying: You parent as you were parented, which is also true with leadership. We lead as we were led.
Until we get serious about leadership, training, and true empowerment we will continue to have toxic and detrimental workplace environments for the first of our first responders. We will continue having difficulties recruiting, training, and retaining our staff. These difficulties are exacerbated by organizational structures that do not provide opportunities for promotional growth. Imagine being a patrol cop and working the same beat for 30 years without an opportunity for advancement or lateral assignment despite your talent, competency, or likability. How long would that last before you were frustrated, bitter, resentful, or angry?
We, as industry leaders, must realize that traditional paradigms built a strong foundation that have carried us this far, but we must envision and create new paradigms if we are serious about public safety in which our 911 dispatchers and telecommunicators play a vital role. They deserve better. They have earned better … and so have you.
Kanter RM. Work and family in the United States: A critical review and agenda for research and policy. Family Business Review. 1989; Volume 2 (issue 1): pages 77-114.
Kanter RM. (1993). Men and Women of the Corporation: New edition. Second Edition. Basic Books; New York City, New York. 1993.
About Kimberly D. Turner MPA, ENP
Kimberly is the Communication Manager at the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department (California, USA). She is a California POST Master Instructor and holds a Master of Arts in Public Administration and a Master of Science in Justice Studies. She is the owner of Kim Turner, LLC, a corporation that provides 911 training and consulting for next generation of 911 professionals and organizations.