The Power of Recognition and Praise

April 9, 2013
A Letter of Appreciation may seem like a simple thing. A pat on the back or a sticky note saying, “Good job” might only take a minute. Recognizing the hard work involved in dispatch/9-1-1 is important. It makes us feel valued and purposeful. Such simple things with such an immense impact.

“Mr. Speaker, every day, in all of our communities, dedicated public safety telecommunicators answer our calls for assistance. They dispatch our calls for help to local police and fire departments, facilitating the execution of emergency rescue and law-enforcement operations in all of our districts. These public safety personnel serve as the vital links within our cities and towns, although rarely appreciated because they are not physically at the scene.

It is time that we show our appreciation for these people who make our Nation's police and fire departments professional and responsive. In order to recognize the high-quality communications services provided by police and fire dispatchers, 911 operators, and emergency medical technicians, I have sponsored House Joint Resolution 284, to designate the week beginning April 12, 1992, as `National Public Safety Telecommunicators Week’.”

These are the words spoken by Mr. Sawyer to Congress out of respect for the over half-million men and women working in emergency response in 1991. This joint resolution was passed that year, and then in 1993 and then in 1994. After that, it became permanent without the need for a yearly introduction.

National Public Safety Telecommunicators or Telecommunications Week (NPSTW) is designated as a time when citizens can thank public safety men and women who respond to emergency calls and dispatch emergency professionals and equipment during times of crisis. Each year when NPSTW comes around, many departments celebrate and praise their telecommunication employees. This made me stop and think about being thanked and what kind of praise/recognition made a difference to me during my time as a police dispatcher/911. I didn’t have to think long.

The Letter

It had been about a week and a half since I had worked that particularly stressful shift. That night had been busy, even for a metro-area like Phoenix. It felt like I had responsibility for over a hundred officers and all of them wanted to find trouble at the same time. I banged away at that keyboard, looked things up, dispatched calls and kept my frequency under control (at times it felt by the skin of my teeth). It was one of those nights where once I was relieved I finally dropped my shoulders down from beside my ears, looked up at the clock and couldn’t figure out where the last three hours had slipped away to. I barely was able to manage a mumble to my co-worker as I slipped off my head-set and shoved it into my bag. I had just spent 10 hours talking (felt like non-stop) and parting my lips to form a coherent sentence wasn’t going to happen any more that night. I was exhausted but satisfied things had gone well.

Then, I got the call into my supervisor’s office. I walked in and she handed me a piece of paper. Trying to calm the, “Oh, crap what have I done now?” voice in my head, I flipped the paper over and read it. It was a Letter of Appreciation from one of the sergeants who had been working that crazy night a week or so ago. She specifically detailed how I had assisted several officers and expressed her appreciation for my calm, professional demeanor. I had gone into my supervisor’s office with my heart in my stomach but I left with it fluttering in my head.

I still have that letter and I pull it out once in a while to read it. That written expression of how my actions had made the shift better for others was a powerful tool. It made me feel wanted, appreciated and purposeful. The fact that she sent it to my supervisor was icing on the cake. Twelve years later it still makes me feel good. It probably took her 5 minutes to write.

Negatives Scream; Positives Whisper

As a public safety telecommunications operator, it often feels the only time you are recognized is when you mess up. When you do something wrong (or even if it is only perceived as wrong), it seems everyone knows about it and everyone is talking about it. When you do your job well, often it goes unrecognized. Just a day in the life of a good dispatcher who cares about doing his or her job well. It shouldn’t be like this. Recognition of doing our jobs well should be carried across the dispatch floor as loudly and quickly as the negative. We can help with this by repeating praise if we hear it. If someone compliments another operator, let them and their supervisor know.

The Little Things

Being recognized means you make a difference and often in our line of work there are times that we just don’t feel like we did. Every call that came over 9-1-1 was the same old thing. All I could do was sit there, ask questions and hope the officers arrived on time. I could handle my radio to the best of my ability and sometimes it just erupted into chaos. I would just keep slapping band-aides on all the problems and hope nobody bled to death. Sometimes it just felt like all the hours of shift work I put in and all the family time I gave up just wasn’t worth it. It didn’t matter. Then, I would get a call from an officer who would say thanks for helping me with this or my supervisor, or better yet, a co-worker would stop by the console and tell me, “Good job.” That was all it took to make me keep sloshing through the calls and the dispatches.

Write it Out; Shout it Out

Although giving verbal praise is important and adds to job satisfaction (and motivation), putting it in writing takes it a step further. Like the letter I received, it is something tangible. Something that goes into your employee file. You can put it in a scrap book or tack it on your I Love Me wall. Research shows that when we hear something we like our brains send out a burst of dopamine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of joy, pride, satisfaction and well-being. Just think about how much feel good juice the recognition you wrote will produce over the years (especially if they are still looking at it and smiling over a decade later).

Feeling appreciated is an important aspect in the work environment especially when you work in a stressful one like public safety communications. Supervisors and supervisees can increase the praise by recognizing the hard work so many dispatcher/9-1-1 operators put in every day. Congress gave us a week of praise. Let’s recognize each other 365 days a year. Look for ways to recognize your co-workers, supervisors and supervisees, as well as, those out in the field. Together we can spread the appreciation. 

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