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Identifying stressors and improving productivity in your 911 agency

On September 14, 2021

In all jobs especially public safety employees can find themselves overwhelmed with the challenges of balancing a more-than-full-time job, family, and other personal needs and responsibilities, which can then lead to unhealthy and unsustainable levels of stress. Over extended periods of time, this will not only affect the employee as an individual, but also the entire workplace culture and potentially cause additional problems including an increase in staff turnover. 


Stress is not a surprising result of operating a busy emergency response agency, but it’s important for managers and agency leadership to take a proactive approach in managing workplace stress and supporting their employees when possible. 


When evaluating what the root causes of stress in your organization may be, consider:

  • Staffing levels

  • Training processes

  • Systems for accountability

    • Potential sick time abuse

    • Appropriate overtime allocations

    • And any other factors that may be present within your agency’s unique operations

There may not be a perfect solution to resolve each and every concern in your agency and there certainly isn’t a single solution that can fit all agencies but small areas to improve can make a big difference for your employees.


Staffing levels

Mindfulness, and even subtle adjustments to procedures or infrastructure, can mean the difference between a well balanced work-life culture versus a chaotic environment that negatively impacts both the employees and the organization as a whole. One common culprit, and unfortunately challenging one, is maintaining an appropriate level of staffing by accounting for sick days, vacation, or if a crisis occurs and more manpower is needed.


If your agency suffers from high turnover, it may be a self-fulfilling cycle in which poor work culture contributes to employee burnout, which causes under-trained employees to rely too heavily on seasoned ones, who then vacate the role due to stress, which means new hires and the cycle continues. 


Two approaches that can make a big difference:

  1. Ask employees about reasonable adjustments that can be made to improve the agency environment. They may have ideas you haven’t considered, which could be fairly easy to accommodate. By opening a dialogue, little changes can make a big difference, greatly increasing employee retention. This means happier employees, and easier operational management.
  2. Establish both a minimum staffing level and a critical minimum staffing level. This can increase visibility on your available coverage, which can help avoid maintaining an unsustainable work environment for too long because you know that while you may be staffed for your critical minimum, you're still operating with less than your standard minimum.


Training processes

Although unstainable levels of overtime is a common culprit which causes staffing issues, it isn’t the only one. Training is an inevitable and essential part of onboarding and preparing emergency responders. That said, it’s also an uncommon place to evaluate infrastructure, though it can be an impactful one due to how it can affect coverage and demands on personnel. 


A few options include:

  1. Consolidate training sessions by identifying similarities and overlaps between roles, and train them simultaneously. This can substantially reduce the number of days, if not weeks, staff are in a training status without compromising on any training requirements. 

  2. Evaluate at what point a trainee might be able to work independently. Although they certainly need all the information given in training for the long-term, they may be able to operate independently enough for the short-term sooner to support your current team and reduce potential burnout on seasoned employees.

  3. Trust your trainers. While training may typically occur over a certain period of time, if the trainer believes someone is ready to be out on the floor earlier, your flexibility in consulting with the trainer can support trainees working independently in order to keep your staffing levels adequate sooner.


Systems of accountability

When it comes to scheduling training, an automated scheduling solution built for public safety that is able to account for your coverage needs can help you avoid training classes impacting regular schedules to ensure there aren’t disruptions in productivity. Additionally, a proper reporting system can be used to easily generate reports, identify patterns, and maintain accountability in a variety of issues including training, day-to-day coverage, and more. Accountability is one of the most important factors in promoting a work-life balance in the workspace namely, leadership accountability. 


A few methods to improve include:

  1. Making sure that proper policies are documented, tracked, and that one group does not have the ability to single-handedly push an agenda goes a long way in maintaining a safe environment for employee discussion and organizational integrity. 

  2. The exploitation of sick leave policy can throw schedules in disarray and lower morale for the remaining employees who pick up the slack. Although this is frustrating for both leadership and colleagues, the root cause of sick time abuse might be that there aren’t other options for employees to take time off. It may be challenging (if not impossible) to address exploitation head on, but exploring the reasons for suspected abuse and making adjustments may help give employees more options so they don’t feel trapped.

  3. Review staff absences and make sure they are recorded, analyzed, and properly handled. Oftentimes, these absences go undiscovered, or are not noted, leaving gaps for available employees to fill fueling resentment toward both leadership and those who are consistently absent. An automated scheduling solution such as Schedule Express can significantly streamline this process in order to reduce oversights that occur with manual systems.



Ultimately, every agency will have its own challenges in place which could be the result of one or more of the factors mentioned above, or something more unique to your agency. At the core of every solution, however, is the organizational culture.


Employers who are able to re-assess infrastructure, open dialogues, and stay flexible to create more balance will ultimately have a more motivated staff who works harder while feeling happier even if additional challenges remain. Public safety is a demanding industry, but for most, it’s a calling and a passion. Exploring innovative solutions and making changes, even small changes, can help focus employees on their passion and not on their grievances benefitting the employees and the employers alike.

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