February 9, 2022
Surviving the Headset
How do we retain people? Short answer—no one knows. No one has the answer because our industry has a retention problem. Time to be blunt, folks, so buckle up and hang on. You’ve been warned.
Our job is not for everyone. It’s not even for most of the population. There’s a small segment of the world’s population who can do the job we do, and agencies everywhere need people. Of that small segment, many people are not long-haulers. Some burn out or decide this isn’t for them. What ideas do we have to hold on to our people?
Pay. We’re in this to get rich. Now that I have you laughing, think about your pay scale. Is it laughable or is it competitive? Who do you need to talk to about getting your pay competitive? If not the pay, compensation through great benefits? What about compression? If your starting pay is near or more than what your people with seniority receive, you might have compression. Don’t just think about attracting new people, think about how to keep the ones you have. There are lower stress jobs that pay more money, which may tempt them away. The ones you have are the ones you need when you have schedule shortages because they are fully trained.
Praise. How often do you praise and recognize your people? Does your administration promote the good calls and works? Do you have a Public Education team so the public understands what you do? How about an internal tracking system of the good service an employee provides and add that to their evaluations? When I was first promoted to supervisor, I wrote “good jobs” for each employee who worked a high-acuity incident. I handed it to one of my employees, a four-year dispatcher, and he stared strangely at it. I asked him what was wrong. He told me it was the first time in four years he had been told he had done a good job. It was an emotional moment for us both. I learned the power of saying, “Good job,” and he learned he could be appreciated.
Wellness. Physical wellness is one thing; mental welfare is another. Do you have a peer support team? 24/7 availability to help if needed? Anonymous help available? How about including your telecommunicators in after-actions, CISM, and hot washes to identify strengths and weaknesses of the response to a given event? We hear what’s happening on the phone and radio; sometimes the mental images can be worse than reality. A telecommunicator may reach the point of needing help and not know how to ask or what outlets are available. Or they might not know they need help. If there are signs, are your people trained to see developing problems?
Training. What’s your training program? How long does it take to go from start to trained and counting on the schedule? Does your agency welcome new hires, tolerate them, or test them, chew them up, and see what happens? What’s your style?
Comfort. The job is hard enough. I wore the military styled Class B uniform daily for several years, and I know how miserable they can be and how much maintenance is required. Has your agency considered switching to a polo and khaki-type pants or a T-shirt with your logo? Make casual Fridays or a casual weekend? What about—and this costs administration nothing—presentable jeans if your agency allows it? What about charity T-shirts or cancer awareness T-shirts as a uniform option? Give employees the option to buy their casual uniforms and input on design; employees will buy.
This is just a sampling of the retention octopus. What’s the employee’s input into policies and procedures? Suggestion process? The dispatch environment—is your center due for a refresh, new chairs, etc.? Equipment—does it work right or does it break constantly? Your schedule open to suggestions? There are more.
Take a good, hard look around and see what you can do.