Reasons Why Good Dispatchers Leave (And How to Keep Them)

Feb. 22, 2017
Why do good employees quit when they love their job? This is a question that not only plagues the business world but also the Comm Center. There are a variety of reasons why great people hang up their headset and also ways to reduce this tragedy.

Back in 2005, I sat back down at my console after having handed one slip of paper to my supervisor at her pod. “You really did it,” my partner said glancing at me sideways. “Guess so,” I replied. “But you love your job and you’re so good at it.” I acknowledged that. “I really do love it.” I looked around the room taking in all the equipment that had become so familiar to me and all the faces that had become so much more than co-workers. I was looking at family. Although a heaviness sat in my chest due to leaving my comfort zone and my family for the unknown, a lightness floated around the edges. I felt good about the resignation I had just turned in. For me, it was time to move on.

Even though it’s been almost twelve years since I walked away from the 911 Center, people still ask me when I’m coming back. After I tell them I’m happy with where I’ve gone from there, their next question is almost always, “What in the world would make you leave a really good job that you loved?” Over the last decade I’ve had a chance to reflect on that. I left because my agency’s rigid stance during a personal crisis showed me that although I was dedicated to my agency, they were not dedicated to me. Once this idea registered in my mind, I realized that all the overtime, all the shift work, all the effort I was putting in didn’t matter one iota when I needed support. A light came on that told me I did not want to spend the rest of my life slowly physically and emotionally dying from the stress for no reason. I could no longer see myself looking back and feeling positive about how I had spent my life and with what business. My story and my reasons are not unique. I’m not alone in having walked away from public safety telecommunications with all my experience, all my talents and all my skills.

In an INC. article, Lolly Daskal, President and CEO of Lead from Within described seven reasons why the best employees quit even when they love their job. All of her reasons match with the personal stories I’ve heard over the years about why 911 Dispatchers walk away. Here’s a look at three of them. 

Overworked

Talk to any 911 Dispatcher at any agency in the country and you will hear about understaffing and mandatory overtime. Even if the agency has managed to be staffed adequately, most remember a time when this wasn’t the case and they worry about a variety of factors that could easily have them back on a weekly basis working a mandatory day of overtime and another on stand-by which always becomes overtime because the only way to get a day off is to be “sick”. Most agencies don’t have enough people and can only get by because their people are required to staff it 24/7. 911 can’t go dark. We can’t turn on a message that says, “You’ve called 911. We’re sorry we can’t come to the phone right now because there wasn’t anyone to work that wasn’t already at 60 hours this week. Please have your emergency at a later time.” Whether understaffing is due to pay, lack of qualified applicants, an uninviting work environment, hiring freezes or whatever, what it equals is tired, stressed, run-down, cranky people who leave because they just want to have a life outside of work. It doesn’t matter that they came into the job wanting to help people and to make a difference because they do. They just can’t keep their own radiator filled and eventually their engine blows.   

Profits over People

This reason may seem to apply only to the profit world but think about it for a minute. How many agencies are running with a skeleton crew because the city is trying to balance their budget? For some reason it has become perfectly acceptable to strip our public safety: officers, fire fighters, and dispatchers in an effort to save money. When the lack of resources and support goes on too long with no end in sight people leave. Of course this saves the city more money, but exacerbates the problem.

Lack of Recognition

This reason is a big one. At our core, we know we make a difference. We work with life or death situations and we make things better to the best of our ability. What we do not get often is someone outside of our friends and family telling us that and it’s important that we hear it. It’s not often that a caller will be in a space where at the end of the call they say thank you. They’re still in the middle of the emergency. Sometimes, a family member or individual will call later and say what a good job you did but more often than not the only time someone reaches back out to the 911 center is to complain. That’s why when a thank you comes in it’s nice for supervisors to pass it along. We need to hear it. Also, in my experience, appreciation and recognition from the field is one of the most awesome things. We want to do a good job and be the backbone for field responders. When they take the time to tell us how we made a difference for them that can make us stay under that headset for a lifetime. Without it, the feelings of purposelessness can make us hang it up years before we need to.

I don’t regret walking away from the Communications Center although I miss my friends. I have also been blessed in continuing to work in public safety and be an advocate for 911 Dispatchers through my writing and my presentations. I have fond memories of my time and am so glad to be part of this wonderful group of people. I just wish that agencies would take the time to realize that the people they have are such jewels, but they need a little polishing to keep them shining.

About the Author

Michelle Perin

Michelle Perin has been a freelance writer since 2000. In December 2010, she earned her Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice from Indiana State University. 

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