By Art Braunschweiger
This isn’t about how we can do our jobs better. It’s about being appreciated for what we do.
Most dispatchers routinely handle calls and call volumes at levels that would be utterly overwhelming to anyone else. Ask any responder who’s done a “ride-along” in dispatch. Perhaps that’s the problem: When excellence becomes the norm, it doesn’t occur to management to acknowledge it.
For comm. centers in the United States, one opportunity for recognition is National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week. It’s the second week of April every year and became law on March 26, 1992, by an act of Congress. In doing so, Congress acknowledged that we “daily serve the public in countless ways without due recognition by the beneficiaries of their services.” Go to www.congress.gov/bill/102nd-congress/house-joint-resolution/284/text to read the resolution’s full text.
Unfortunately, many of us don’t get recognition from our agencies, either. Last year I asked a friend what his agency—a large, regional center—did for them on Telecommunicators Week. “We got a travel mug,” he said. I thought, “Really? That’s it?”
Mugs are nice, but recognition for what we do needs to go beyond token gestures of acknowledgement and involve genuine expressions of appreciation. Many comm. centers have found ways to do this without spending a dime. Last year my comm. center designated one day of Telecommunicators Week as “Jeans and Fire Department T-Shirt Day.” The departments we dispatched were glad to donate shirts of various sizes as their way of saying thanks. The theme for another day was “Wear Your Favorite Sports Jersey.” The best was “Bring Your Dog to Work Day,” with the stipulation of one per shift. We still don’t know who enjoyed the day more, the dogs or the dispatchers.
For comm. centers with a little money to play with, being treated to a free lunch order is a simple gesture that’s always appreciated (you can rarely go wrong with putting food in front of a dispatcher). Some comm. centers organize a food theme for different days of the week (time to bring in that award-winning chili). Providing recognition formally through your city, county, or organization’s website also goes a long way. Some agencies present an award for Telecommunicator of the Year based on past performance or notable calls.
The sad truth is that at some agencies, there’s a huge disparity between what the dispatchers do and what they’re officially recognized for. I have been to agencies where they’re in the same job classification as clerical workers, with an hourly pay rate that’s not much better. Often, that’s because decades-old job classifications and pay rates reflect the era when the job involved only pencil and paper, a single phone line, and no minimum performance expectations. Comm. center administrators may not be able to solve that problem in the short term, but they can make sure their dispatchers feel appreciated. Surprisingly, studies show that employee recognition increases morale, increases teamwork, and keeps employees engaged far more than what can be accomplished with increases in pay. It’s been proven that good pay keeps employees from leaving, but it doesn’t make them happier while they’re there. That’s why establishing a culture of recognition is one of the most important goals an agency can have.
Next time National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week rolls around, make it count. (Kudos to you if you already do.) If you’re an administrator, come up with a plan. If you’re not, submit some ideas or a copy of this column. We rarely seek recognition for ourselves, but we do need to know we’re appreciated.