I'm the Boss

A month ago, the posting went up. You updated your resume adding the training you attended, the projects you took on, and the times you stepped in for your supervisor. You passed the records check and the new background check. You kept yourself calm and collected during the oral board answering the questions thoughtfully and clearly. Now, you've just been told the candidates list has been posted. You rush to the hall to look. Your name is at the top of the list. You are the new communications center supervisor. You take a deep breath and wonder what comes with the position. Soon you find out. Responsibility. Authority. Stress.

One of the first things I was told as a 9-1-1 operator was when I got to work I needed to leave my personal problems at the door. Soon after, when things got stressful at work, I was told I needed to learn how to leave work problems on my home's doormat. This was an interesting, but completely unrealistic idea. People are not split into sections. There is not a working Michelle and a home Michelle. In many ways, each aspect bleeds into the other. As a supervisor, you must learn how to recognize how this bleed-over may be affecting the way you do your job. Getting to know your employees and any personal issues they might be facing, especially ones which cause stress, will help you be a better supervisor. In a Family Relations article, Gary Hansen said, "Having a supportive supervisor may be equivalent to having a supportive spouse in terms of its effect on stress." When you talk to an employee in an attempt to find workplace solutions to personal stressors, keep Hansen's advice in mind.

Personal life stress not only affects your employees, but also yourself. To be a good supervisor, you must acknowledge the stress which is present in your life and attempt to manage it. Proper nutrition, adequate rest, and regular exercise can significantly lower the amount of stress, as well as your body's reaction to it. You might also want to suggest these coping techniques to your employees .

Another supervisory stressor relates to the total job environment. One of the most stressful parts of communications work is the critical contact we have with citizens and officers. As a supervisor, the contacts can be more stressful because the mundane, routine contacts are handled at the floor level. The callers who end up on your phone usually have a complaint, are too irate for an operator to handle, or have an unusual request. Each time the phone rings at the supervisor's desk, you know it needs to be handled professionally and immediately. Even contacts with officers usually require an instantaneous decision. This ability to think on your feet might have gained you the supervisor's spot in the first place, but it also takes a toll on your mind and body in the way of stress. Again, taking care of your health can help you cope. If the phone rings and you are feeling overwhelmed, and have the option, allow another supervisor or a responsible, trained employee to handle the call. Delegate, if necessary. Take a quick break. Take a few deep breaths and settle your mind. You will be better able to handle any issues arising in the future.

Also, parts of the total job environment are policies and procedures. Law enforcement policies are fluid. Loud noise complaints could take a back seat when a rash of burglaries hit. A memo coming down the chain changes the procedure. Then, the mayor might find himself living next to a party house. His complaint culminates in another memo stating the department is beefing up its loud noise complaint procedures. Once again, as a supervisor, you find yourself trying to stay on top of the changes, as well as facilitating your employees to do so. Then it seems as soon as the new policies take effect, different ones land on your desk. This inconsistency can add a huge amount of stress to a supervisor's already heaping plate. Although the prospect of changing this practice is unrealistic, as a supervisor you can take part in requests for input into the department's policies and procedures. Feeling like you have a voice, and are allowing the chain of command to hear the working side of their changes, might be enough to keep the stress at bay by giving you a sense of control. Understanding why changes are taking place will also allow you to explain them to your employees easing their stress as well.

A final element of supervisory stress is your personal style. A fine balance has to be struck between being overly-managerial and anti-managerial. As an individual, your strengths may include exemplary planning skills, but if as a manger, you insist on organizing the details of every employee activity, you will find yourself being labeled a micro-manager. On the other hand, having risen through the ranks, you find yourself having trouble leading people who have seniority to you, or those you might have had personal conflict with when you were on the floor. If you avoid giving direction to your employees and take a completely hands-off approach, you will leave your employees frustrated when they find themselves making all the decisions on their own. Both of these scenarios will cause stress for both the supervisor and the employee. A micro-managing supervisor will burn out quickly as he tries to do both his job and the job of those underneath him. A hands-off supervisor will find his employees do not respect him and have trouble taking direction when he decides to lead. Employees need a supervisor who can make good, quick decisions she is willing to back. Supervisor stability and consistency can ease stress and improve work conditions.

Working at a communications center can be stressful. Leading workers at a communications center can be even more so. Learning to lead in a even-handed fashion, understanding what causes job environment stress, and keeping a handle on personal issues both for yourself and your employees can make being a supervisor easier leaving you to complete the job tasks necessary for running a mandatory-staffing, 24/7, first response center. Failing to recognize stressors and deal with them head-on could easily end in health, as well as, work problems.