The result of that kind of telescopic world view often means minimizing the experiences of others. "Nobody in your life feels they can get any compassion unless they, too, are getting airlifted into a trauma center," Lipsky says.
How to help
James Azuero, chief of communications for the Paramedic Division of Denver Health, has a long track record in his field, and all of that experience has taught him how to build a positive relationship with telecommunications personnel. Azuero says one of the most important things any supervisor can do is earn an employee's trust — then keep it. He also says a supervisor must have advanced technological and organizational skills.
"Knowing and understanding your system as well as protocols is key to your success," Azuero adds.
But ultimately, it's the people part of supervising that separates the good places to work from the bad. Approachable, fair supervision goes a long way toward reducing stress in the workplace. Azuero also recommends that supervisors stand available to assist the dispatcher throughout the shift, not simply disappear into an office with a closed door.
Here are a few additional recommendations from Azuero to keep stress levels lower. He says supervisors should:
- Remain involved by staying on top of the types of calls coming in. If there is a particularly stressful call, the supervisor may need to debrief the dispatcher on the spot.
- Establish a peer support group for the communications center to give employees a safe, professional way to deal with stress.
- Use a triage standard in which the dispatcher asks scripted questions, giving callers consistency in how each call is approached (this also helps ensure the quality of each response).
- Audit calls on a regular basis to give immediate feedback to the dispatcher, particularly in difficult situations.
As for the overall success of the communications center, that often boils down to simply hiring the right people. Azuero says a good supervisor should be able to make quick decisions, have experience with 911 calls and exhibit both understanding and flexibility. As for the telecommunicators, he says "the ability to stay calm in very tense situations, multi-tasking and utilizing all different types of resources and thinking outside the box," are the minimum he looks for in new employees.
Before a call rolls code
Sure, there are a lot of technological programs out there that can make telecommunications easier or more accurate and productive, but the underlying health of a communications center can be summed up in the health of its individual employees.
Dispatchers with readily available healthy foods, convenient exercise opportunities, who get enough sleep and don't work in a poisonous environment with rampant gossip and backstabbing (particularly when it's encouraged by management), will produce a higher quality product. That means the officers on the street will be safer, the public more satisfied and the media won't find your center an easy target.
And, although it's impossible and unrealistic to hold a supervisor responsible for all aspects of a subordinate's private life, it is reasonable to expect that supervisor to be aware of other dynamics. Minding the shop these days includes paying attention to what's on the other person's plate. Good dispatching can make or break a call — and the way to ensure good dispatching is to make sure the men and women using the technology are at their personal best — at work and at home.
A 12-year veteran of police work, Carole Moore has served in patrol, forensics, crime prevention and criminal investigations, and has extensive training in many law enforcement disciplines. She welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.