Thursday, October 19, 2006

“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” ~ William James

I haven't been feeling very appreciated at my job lately.

That probably sounds like I'm whining and, to a certain extent, I guess I am but I feel that every once in awhile I'm entitled to that. I try not to do it on a regular basis as I know full well that whining gets a person nowhere and only annoys those around us within earshot but I also think that occasional whining is good for the soul. Of course, having now put that in print, I rather expect Amanda to pull it out and use it against me on a fairly regular basis! "But, Mom, you said it's okay to whine sometimes ..."!!

That said - back to work and not feeling appreciated lately ... I have been putting in A LOT of hours at work for the past, well, geez, I can't exactly remember HOW long but it's been a long time as we've been short-handed for quite some time in addition to Jen being out on maternity leave, etc. It's the nature of the beast in dispatch centers to generally have trouble being up to staff and staying up to staff because it's not a job for everyone - you have to be certifiably insane to want to make dispatching your career and a lot of people get into it only to find that it's not their cup of tea at all. Dispatch is sort of like an iceberg - what you see on the surface is nothing compared to what lies beneath. And if I thought that dispatching for a municipal police or fire department was tough - it's nothing compared to dispatching at a commerical ambulance/Emergency Medical Serivce provider.

In an article on Emergency Medical Dispatching by The National Academies of Emergency Dispatch, Dr. Jeff Clawson, father of EMS dispatching and founder of the Academy states:
"Dispatchers, in a way, are responsible for the overall flux of what's happening in the system. They are in charge of every scene until someone else gets there. No one knows more about a call than the dispatcher because that's the only person who has talked to someone at the scene. Once EMS arrives, there's a new commander. Dispatchers have to be multitasking, fairly unflappable, and have to provide leadership and empathy to people who are in the midst of a crisis. On paper, their job is more complex than a field responder's - not more important or harder, but more complex. They change hats a lot in what they do."
You don't schedule calls for police or fire, you don't worry about insurance and billing information, you don't deal with a spreadsheet that resembles a large Tetris puzzle as you try to drop calls onto it in a manner that fits the times facilities want but is also fair to all of the road crews, and you don't worry about a myriad of other things that were completely foreign to me when I started at American. I may have had close to ten years experience under my belt when I took the job at American but it was nothing like I had dealt with before. I can remember sitting behind the console when I first started and thinking "I will never, ever in a million years be able to do this job". It scared me, it intimidated me, it challenged me.

But I did learn the job and I think I learned it well. I'm not perfect - no one is - but I try my best every single time I sit down behind that console. I take my job seriously, I take the performance of my job seriously, and I expect the people that I work with to take it seriously also. This isn't just a job for me - it's a career - and it defines a very big part of who I am. I am a dispatcher. From time to time I have been told that I'm a damned good dispatcher and because of that I try very hard to live up to that reputation. Not necessarily because I don't want to let other people down but because I don't want to let myself down.

Of course, like anyone in any job I occasionally like to be told that I'm doing a good job, that I'm important to the company, that I'm appreciated but lately I don't feel like I've been getting that. I know we're shorthanded, I know my supervisor is stressed out, I know there's a lot going on but how hard would it be for him to say "thank you for the extra effort"? I'm not a machine, I'm not putting in 56-hour weeks just for my own benefit - I'm trying to be a team player but right now I'm losing my enthusiasm and motivation.

There's a very real thing amongst emergency dispatchers called "dispatcher burn-out" and it's an occupational hazard that all of us in this business are susceptible to. I know enough about it to know that I'm probably pretty close to it right now but I also know that it can be prevented. Recognizing it is half the battle and I think I've done that.

Now the next step is to take a break and relax a bit. To that end, I am not working either of my two days off this week or next week or even the week after and I am going to do as little as possible while I'm home. It's hard for us "Type A" personalities to do but I am going to be completely and totally lazy for the next two days and I am not going to feel the least bit guilty about it! It might not be a complete and total cure for not feeling appreciated but it's a start ... right, Cyndi??


  1. Anonymous9:46 AM EDT

    I'M BAAAACK!!!! Hopefully that will help a little....oh and I appreciate you Linda!!

  2. Anonymous1:28 PM EDT

    Is there such a thing as "personal assistant burnout"? Because I feel like when I start waking up every single day not wanting to come to work, it's a sign to either 1) change my job or 2) take some time off!

    And too, I think jobs are like any other relationship -- after we've been in it a while, it's easy to be taken for granted.

    Anyway, you obviously are very very good at what you do otherwise you would not have been the company Employee of the Year (and so soon after you started!). There's nothing like some good old R&R to revive the body, mind and soul... try to really enjoy your days off and do good things for yourself. You ARE appreciated.

  3. Y'know...a bunch of us can sit here all day and tell ya how much we appreciate you, but let's be honest - you'd like to hear it from certain people - like your boss - especially after you went to bat for him AND his brother for the "Star of Life" awards. Respect is a two way street, and some of those who wear the red collar pins have forgotten that. If it bothers you, then SAY something to the "Head Dispatcher" (if that's what he wants to call himself). Lay it out on the line. You know you can't get suspended or fired 'cuz they're shorthanded. Believe me, those of us on crew 3/4 nights run around like chickens with our heads cut off because we're short medics, and the "Hits, they just keep on coming!". Personally, I think someone needs to convince the "Big Kahuna" (Helen's boss) to come up with a comprehensive plan to 1. hire more people in key positions like dispatchers & medics, 2. Up the pay scale to make it worthwhile to recruit & retain aforementioned employees. Of course, this is "not feasible" (insert excuse here). But the only way we can all feel truely appreciated is when mgt. decides to back us up, and we hear the bugles of the rescuing cavalry (relief!) in the distance!!

  4. Bulldog - whereas I agree with you on some of this and I truly appreciate you appreciating me just like I appreciate you, please don't lump all the "red collar pins" together. Most of the managers try very hard to be proactive and positive but they seem to run into brick walls on a regular basis and I'm sure they're just as frustrated as the rest of us. My big problem is - how do we say something without it making it sound like we're just whining? How do we affect a change?

  5. Anonymous2:44 PM EDT

    Ok, where to start? I'll work my way backwards. First, I think it's clear that you REALLY need a mental health day. Immediately.

    God knows dispatchers need more of those than most, but we tend not to take them. That's in no small measure due to understaffing problems, which are endemic everywhere dispatchers roost. It would seem that those in the loftier levels of responsibility in municipalities and/or private enterprise might exercise the logic that helped them rise above the crowd INTO positions of responsibility. Are you listening, ye olde shift supervisors, division managers, Captains and so on? Put that logic to work to connect the dots.

    Let’s see: the job description involves high stress from multiple factors, not the least of which is high work volume without the ability to control the rate of same. One can't simply turn 911 off simply because one is already juggling three situations--how rude! The ability to work in that environment requires multitasking skills so evolved as to be limitless--that's a skill not unlike the ability to excel in sports. You have to be born with the raw material and practice it constantly to be able to perform at the multitasking levels required in dispatch. Let us not forget the incredible responsibility for life placed on a SINGLE soul who is the lifeline for a caller UNTIL the (almost always) MULTI-person "first responders" (who was that who was first again?) gets there. Add to this the near-complete lack of recognition for the dispatcher's contributions to a successful incident outcome. I could go on, but why? Those unfamiliar with dispatching should check out the links Linda has provided for a full picture of what that voice on the other end of the phone really does. Everyone else knows what it takes to do the job.

    Sprinkle the job description with a pinch of the still-present sexism that exists in some centers (dinosaurs know who you are-the anachronistic fools who think women have no place in a dispatch center). Stir in humanity. Dispatchers are no different than anyone else; we have families, finances, personal health issues, homes to maintain and the joys of daily interaction (traffic etc) in a "me-first" society. Yup, we are human--just like management.

    Now throw in the major ingredient in the Dispatcher Turnover recipe: UNDERSTAFFING. A cup of same is the primary ingredient in cooking up a disaster, but it doesn't have to be that way. Really. In my 15-plus years on the job I had the opportunity to see centers that had managed understaffing appropriately and thus had minimal problems (should have jumped ship for one of them, too--would have if my husband wasn’t more deeply rooted than your average Oak).

    Good management resulted in contented professional dispatchers who were not planning their next career move mentally whilst handling kind of intense (can you spell LIFE-Threatening?) calls. The key word there was MANAGING. You manage understaffing by managing turnover and dealing effectively with scheduling, vacationing, etc. Turnover management involves identifying & hiring the right people with the right native skills for the job, then developing their skills, supporting their efforts and treating them as VALUED members of the TEAM (you know , fellas—TEAM—like football, From that point forward, handling the mundane details of scheduling happy, effective employees becomes a lot easier.

    So I ask the logical question: are those in charge of maintaining staffing in dispatch centers blind, ignorant of logic or the principles of basic chemistry, indifferent to both their own job performance and that of those they supervise, or what? Scarier still are those who could make a difference and refuse to do so because of personal prejudices—be they sex, color, appearance—pick yer poison).

    The Frankenstein of dispatch management is the person who understands all these factors all too well—and is running scared. This person has, by a variety of means (sometimes related to competence in dispatch, sometimes not) managed to rise to supervisor or beyond, but has little confidence in their skills. They are watching their backs and they do more damage than anyone in dispatching. For these folks, job security is related to perpetuating understaffing and discouraging initiative and excellence in their dispatchers at ALL costs.
    Ultimately, those in charge of the company/agency that perpetuates problems via poor supervision and management are responsible for burnout. Theoretically, they SHOULD be able to rely on the expertise of those in charge of their various departments, and thus do not need to educate themselves on the cause of difficulties in a particular division of their firm/agency. Sadly, theoretical management collapses in a me-first world. If the CEO, president, Chief or whoever is at the top knows NOTHING about the skills required to work in AND manage every division of their agency/firm, and never takes an objective look at the person they choose to perform each management position, they deserve what they get; a mediocre agency/firm that achieves far less than it could.

    This occurs a lot in public agencies (police, fire et al); so much so that it’s an accepted public joke (What average Joe today believes that anyone in government is earning their pay?). How sad that we, as citizens and the theoretical owners of our country and thus our government, accept this as the norm.

    However, the person sitting atop a for-profit enterprise is taking a hit in his/her personal pockets if they don't take a personal interest in the competence of management. Anyone who buys the B.S. that a department cannot be properly managed because any particular problem is endemic in the field and thus insurmountable deserves to take a hit in the pocketbook for not having the initiative or wisdom to find out if their management is REALLY doing the job or simply resting on a well-maintained list of plausible excuses.

    Whew.. Oh yeah, two last thoughts:

    As a Type C (Chameleon) personality, I'm a bit different than the majority of dispatchers (who are overwhelmingly type A's). I have no problem whatsoever in declaring a mental health day. Never have, never will. Odd, then, that I am indeed certified. Really. Got the docs to prove it. Perhaps that's why I'm so darned good at it (no modesty here!). Interestingly, I never knew I had a problem, much less that my problem had anything to do with dispatching, until my physical issues (orthopedic and neurological) made me hang up the headset. If that happens to Type C's who pay attention to their stress levels and don't think they are being slackers by taking a breather, what are the chances that Type A's can end up in a complete mental blowout?

    Finally, I take issue with your comment "And if I thought that dispatching for a municipal police or fire department was tough - it's nothing compared to dispatching at a commercial ambulance/Emergency Medical Service provider". While I do understand that the pressures in medical dispatch are different than in law enforcement (and you know I did both for awhile—between later experience in a combined fire/medical/ police and starting my work life as a kid who was dispatching ambulances back in the Stone Age while you were still knocking around junior high school), and I recognize that the added stress of paperwork is yet another pile 'o fun for you, I would remind you that the medical dispatcher rarely has to fear that their beloved street personnel may be shot at any second. It has happened, but rarely. Medical and Fire personnel are the good guys in the white hats, and are mostly welcome at the scene. Cops, on the other hand….sometimes are not & it hurts when that ends badly.

    Yawn---have s nice Day OFF (or I will fly back there and smack you with my retired headset...and get away with it. Remember, I'm already certified)

  6. Being a definate type "A", I also like Cyndi knew when to take a mental health day from ye ole dispatching. In fact I have taken many since I hung up my headset a few months ago and traded it in for a smock and a lesson plan book! But knowing Linda, whom I talked to a little while ago, and thanks for being my telephone tester! It seems to be working fine here in the wilds of the 'burbs. Linda will take the day, ignore the pages and pleas to please, please help fill open shifts. But she will feel just a tingle of "would've's and "should've's", but since her, denser than a scoop of taters boss doesn't seem to know enough to just causally mention, hey thank's for helping out the last few weeks, and man I don't know what we would've done had you not taken a huge one for the team and worked 20 hours last week, she will ignore the pleas and wails for assistance, because she is the one who needs a little assistance right now. Her brain, her compassion and her caring needs to take a big ole mental health day, and just say," the hecks with it". But that little voice will knock at her brain, it's something most dispatchers come equiped with I think from birth. It's called a conscience or in other words, we know when to do the right thing, and it's definately not for any glory, as lord knows the lowly dispatcher is lower than a worms belly in a 50 foot ditch! We don't do this job for the glory,or didn't in my case, sometimes we wonder why we did/do it at all. But every once in awhile, when the boss just mentions casually, the words "thank you" carries more weight then a pot of gold, or a newspaper spread about how great we are. How come neither seems to happen that often. It always boggled my mind, when I was dispatching, you could be handling the biggest thing, I will chose the mega fire right near the NFD headquarters a few years back. I was working my ears and mouth off on that incident, had it working like no one's business, did ye ole chief of NFD or NPD, say hey good job, hell no. Amongst the usual whining by the paid norwich fire guys you'd think I stoked the flames myself and was a complete idiot. Many think a trained monkey wearing a headset could do a dispatchers job, but come on, would you want a monkey to answer your call for help?! I'd want Linda even in burn out mode!

  7. Anonymous10:25 PM EDT

    Geez.... Cyndi can we send your response to 911 magazine? It would make a great article!!!

  8. Anonymous12:15 AM EDT

    Hi Jen--coming from you (whom Linda speaks highly of!) I'm either flattered or amazed by your comment. I've an unfortunate inability to master the art of writing short comments, particularly on subjects I'm passionate about. If 911 magazine tolerates rants, I'm willing & able to edit 8)

    Nuthin for nuthin-- I's rather send it to someone in layers of bean dip otherwise known as management (your place or anywhere else) with a forward-thinking style who cares enough to start a scary trend. Imagine learning--and applying--principles of making dispatchers -- and (gasp) even perhaps field personal--smile (business, of course, strictly business..I'm talking theory here, not fun..)

    Any ideas? I have extensive experience in working with the good, the bad and the REALLY ugly. Seen one, seen 'em all--but I've rarely seen those who can rise to a challenge!

  9. Anonymous1:39 AM EDT

    Yo area51--(love that name)...

    Your mega fire sounds like ehst I like to call the personal "Soon-to-be-ex-dispatcher's-Epiphany" call. I rhink anyone who has left the field knows that: 1. You can take the girl (or guy--equal respect here for you really talented dispatching fellas) out of dispatch, but you'll never take the dispatcher out of the girl AND 2, You will always know the call that defines the reason why you had to quit dispatching.

    I actually had three memorable calls that figured in the demise of my active life in dispatching. Two are very, very long stories. One of them actually wasn't my call at all, and it occurred a good six years before I left, but it could teach poor managers a thing or two about the dangers of negative retention of those who couldn't dispatch their way out of a wide-open door with an escalator moving toward said exit. The second call might teach poor managers more than they want to know about nepotism/old-buddy networking/desperately trying to cover one's back/the stupidity of seeking sacrificial goats when upper management has screwed up. THOSE two I won't bore you with. The third one so defines unnecessary stress due to poor management, leading to severe understaffing--so here ya go:

    I worked in SPD communications. I did the assistant supervisor thing for a few years, but demoted to make it easier to get the prime shifts (determined by seniority) I needed to make care of my disabled youngest son. Days, for the most part, were reserved for the most senior of the 21 or so people working there at the time; I was #3 in seniority, directly behind the two other women on the shift. We needed 31 people for full staffing; we had been at these levels for close to two years. Consequently, everyone had been working 12 on and 12 off just about every workday, along with filling shifts on days off, for two years. Everyone was beat, to say the least.

    I roll into work on a Sunday morning, ready to spend an average day as the JUNIOR member of a team of five: two on phones, two on radios, and a supervisor. No such luck. There were only two people sitting there when I showed up--the supervisor and assistant supervisor had called in sick. TH?AT was not hard to understand--after two years of severe understaffing and thus mandantory hireback, even supervisors were getting fed up and using sick time creatively.

    When the supe was sick, the assistant supe was supposed to take over his/her duties, but we had no assistant supe either. The three of us present that day were equal in rank, but the other two had me on seniority by many years--thus, by policy one of them was supposed to supervise. Yeah-right! Neither would take the supe's desk--they claimed they didn't know how to supervise and since I had been an assistant supe in the past, I had to take the job. They kept their butts firmly planted at dispatch & ordered me to take the supe's desk.

    Our town is pretty big (250,000), and supervising involved tasks like going to rollcall, keeping the CAD system going, etc, on top of monitoring call loads. breaks, critical calls, interacting with the sworn staff-a full time job. Supervising while also serving as the only call taker AND trying to call in very reluctant off-duty personnel to staff the center was more than work--it was a mess. MY mess, with no recourse. At least it was Sunday-- the call load should have stayed slow for a few hours, right? Sure.

    Ten minutes after I returned from rollcall, I picked up 911 and got a drunken idiot threatning to blow his six year old son's head off, then kill himself. All this before my first cup of coffee--Sheesh! Welcome to Stockton. My coworkers on the desk did, to their credit, do a wonderful job of moving units to the scene rapidly--while I did the hostage negotiations number. Naturally, the fool would not come out, so SWAT was called for. Guess who was tasked with calling each SWAT member, along with misc. other people who must be notified of the callout or otherwise must respond with SWAT? Yup--the shift supervisor. So now I'm: Negotiating with a suididal/homocidal nutcase, interacting with the Watch Commander and the units on scene to fulfill requests the dispatcher's cant handle, keeping an eye on the OTHER situations in the rest of the city, calling out SWAT, continuing to try to fill the vacant seats in the Center with calltakers AND answering 911 and all the other incoming lines.

    About that time, I started to wonder if my multiyear investment in SPD was worth it in light of the fact that there seemed to be no end in sight to the understaffing mess that led to this pathetic situation. Careful consideration of my options followed.

    So how did it all turn out? Well, after the SWAT negotiatior walked into the command center he relieved me of the negotiation--for about three minutes. Seems the guy didn't want to talk to him--he wanted me. It's so nice to be wanted... (side note: I was formally trained for negotiations by the same FBI instructors that trained the sworn personnel, so doing the negotiation was no big deal--just a royal bitch to do it AND everything else). After about forty five minutes of sheer insanity, I finally got a calltaker in to handle the phones. It took another hour to get the Bozo into custody; it turned out that he had neither a gun OR his son inside. He was drunk, divorced, delusional, and his son was safe at mom's house the whole time. Thank God.

    I never got so much as a 'nice job, Cyn" from anyone, but I did finally get a cup of coffee.

    And they wonder why we burn out.

  10. Side note update...

    Cyndi I would've said thank you for that swat call. Wow, it must've been some kinda crazy day!! Please talk your other half into you coming out to visit, I think war stories and margaritas are in order!!! I'll even buy the 'ritas, of course as long as it's not a school night. And you are definately right, you can't take the dispatcher outta the girl, even if you take the girl outta dispatch.

    I was happy to hear when I talked to Linda today that yes, her boss said thank you for all that she does. And he was even "boss" enough to read all of our supportive comments to Linda and not take it personally, as we did not, or rather I did not mean it as a personal attack against him or the company she works for. It was just a forum for one dispatcher to vent and all those that have worn the headset to say, oh man I know what you mean.

    And to all those at NFD, I don't hate the fire dept paid or volunteer.You guys and ladies do an incredible job.

    I can remember one supervisor saying that the reason we never got awards or atta-boys, was because it was our job, that little line that says, other duties as assigned. So when the proverbial stuff was hitting the fan and everyone was running around like a chicken with their head cut off, we just did our jobs. Hum, it's still nice to hear thank you. I would like to thank you, Linda's boss, for thanking her. I like to hear happiness in my friend's voice. After all I have dispatcher's ears, I can tell.

  11. Anonymous1:50 PM EDT

    Commenting on an older entry seems silly most of the time,but this one has been more viewed than most, so...

    Thanks, Ms.51 (thats 51 as in area, not age. I have it on good authority that you're barely 25...heheh).

    You said it and I second it. Props to the boss who listens to his dispatchers & takes the time to give them that little bit of support. You are so right- it's good to ear happiness in Linda's voice, and both amazing and wonderful to hear it was put there by a boss that went an extra mile. My thanks to Linda's boss.

    It's true that doing the un-doable is part of the job description for anyone in EMS, Fire, Law Enforcement, Medical practice, (docs,nurses, support staff), Military, etc..and lets not forget our Educators. All jobs contribute to our society and deserve recognition. That said, public service jobs that have either an immediate or profound effect on individual lives ask much of their practitioners. The supervisor who told you that the thank yous from management were covered under the "other duties as assigned" clause was both a sad sack as a human being and a lousy supervisor. Period. Obviously he/she was someone who doesn't have the vision to see the sychronicity in human relations. So many don't, as if there were really walls around them that make them "special, safe, privileged and in control of THEIR world". I hope she/he wasn't a parent (poor kids!), but in a fantasy sense it would be great to be a fly on the wall when said idiot is trying to keep a teen in line by throwing out "do you have any idea how much you have and how hard I've worked to give it to you?" and the kid turns around and says "So what? That was your job--and the special stuff was your job too. It's covered under "other duties as assigned".

    And thanks for the offer for margaritas -- my personal favorite! I'll take you up on that when and IF my life allows. Personally, I'd like to throw a party with the whole bunch of y'all. I'm looking forward to it!


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