You’ll need to determine what concerns fall into Triage Level 1 and how you’ll manage them. Every one of us face a multitude of these each day; those who learn to manage them well can maintain high morale, and those who don’t will be dragged down by what are ultimately often just annoying trivialities.
Triage Level 2 – Circling the Drain
In 1984 I enrolled in college as a chemistry major. The sciences and technology were being pushed heavily, especially for students who had shown an aptitude for them in high school, with promises of a shining future in lucrative and exciting careers. Up to that point I had done very well in the advanced science and math classes I had taken, the thought of a life as a scientist of some sort was enticing, and my teachers and guidance counselor were optimistic I’d continue to flourish once I reached the halls of higher learning. So I was full of excitement and eager to start down the road toward that “shining future” with great confidence.
It was an utter disaster. At least the math and science portion was. I really enjoyed most of the other classes I was taking, and my grades were solid in just about everything except my science and math classes. My GPA plummeted, dragging my self-esteem with it. I had been at the top of my class academically from Kindergarten through high school, and that identity was crumbling along with the future I’d envisioned. Despite enjoying most aspects of college, my morale bottomed out.
Many college students have similar experiences; their first major (or two) isn’t what they expected it would be, no longer holds their interest, or exceeds their natural aptitude. It was all three for me. Most students have the common sense to cut loose from the mismatch quickly and forge a new path. Not me! Nope, I was going to stubbornly plug away because… well, there really was no good “because.” I was just stupid that way. It took me two full years – and the realization that, even if I turned my grades around, a career in science would probably make me miserable anyway - to finally realize switch to something I actually wanted to study.
The point is we often hold tight to hopes that something is going to get better when all the evidence argues against it, or that if we try just a little bit harder we’ll overcome some obstacle or shortcoming. The same thing applies in law enforcement and we have a tendency to be stubborn in the face of even overwhelming odds. Sometimes that’s admirable, but occasionally it’s just dumb! Some things are simply not to be. Knowing when to change course is key to preserving our morale.
Triage Level 3 – Critical issues requiring immediate attention
Unlike the concerns of Triage Levels 1 and 2, which will usually benefit from a change of perspective or taking a completely different tack, what you find under this category are those concerns of grave importance. While most matters fall under one of the first two levels, what you’ll place here are serious and immediate threats to your job, your physical and emotional health, your personal or department’s reputation, or the moral or ethical code you live under by oath or by choice. Although really quite rare, these issues demand your urgent attention, or that of someone with the power to overcome them.
It’s common to lump all of those things that batter away at our morale in one category, and then become overwhelmed by the combined size of the pile. Triaging them helps us maintain perspective; not everything is critical or needs to be handled with the same urgency, and some things we can just let go. Knowing what are most important – and you already know what are most critical – and putting those into Triage Level 3 allows you to see threats to morale in a more manageable way.
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Next month we’ll conclude this series on A New Year Morale Check-Up by taking a closer look at those issues you’ve placed under Triage Levels 1 and 3, and discussing some basic strategies to overcome them.
Stay Safe and Have Fun. Because, remember, THIS JOB IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN!