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The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the critical importance of a positive and supportive workplace culture. PSAPs already faced unprecedented challenges: the demanding nature of 911, irregular schedules, exposure to traumatic events, and limited resources. When the pandemic hit, these issues were even more magnified as telecommunicators had to balance the reality of remote schooling, public entity shutdowns, isolation, and uncertainty.

One of the most important takeaways from the pandemic was that organizations who prioritized communication, empathy, and flexibility were better equipped to weather the storm and support their employees.

The lessons learned during the pandemic underscore the value of a positive workplace culture in fostering resilience, engagement, and overall organizational success- specifically in attracting and retaining a skilled workforce. With 82% of PSAPs surveyed by NENA and Carbyne reporting difficulty in filling open positions, it’s clear that the emphasis on culture plays a huge role in keeping PSAP seats full.

The PSAP Culture Today

The 2024 Pulse of 911 Survey from NENA and Carbyne reported that 29% of respondents considered the negative workplace culture in their PSAP a top workplace issue. Coupled with the growing reports of burnout, a supportive work environment where employees feel heard and validated can make a difference in someone leaving or staying at your PSAP.

Why it Matters

It’s simple: In a professional environment where teamwork thrives, support is abundant, and well-being is valued, staff are more likely to stay in that job. That’s the essence of a positive workplace culture. Telecommunicators have a high-stress job, oftentimes experiencing emotional fatigue or even PTSD. A workplace that recognizes that stress and tries to reconcile it the best they can goes a long way.

Key Strategies for Building a Positive Workplace Culture:

Clear Communication: Encourage open communication channels where staff feel heard and respected. Regular team meetings, feedback sessions, and anonymous suggestion boxes can provide avenues for dialogue and improvement.

Training and Support: Investing in comprehensive training programs and ongoing professional development not only enhances employees’ skills but demonstrates a commitment to their success. Supporting your team also means providing the tools your telecommunicators need to navigate every type of call. Continual training for both veteran and newly hired 911 emergency telecommunicators keeps call takers prepared for all types of calls, especially the critical ones.

Training is important, but you also need to provide the tools they need to be able to use that training effectively. Consider choosing tools that support telecommunicators by providing flexible scripts and Quick View terms to guide the call taker through handling

Recognition and Appreciation: Recognizing and celebrating the hard work and dedication of employees can boost morale and foster a sense of belonging. Whether through verbal praise, awards, or small gestures of appreciation, acknowledging employees’ contributions goes a long way in building a positive workplace culture. Did one of your telecommunicators help deliver a baby recently? Or help someone escape a house fire? Celebrate it!

Mental Health Support: It is common for people working in this industry to experience vicarious, or secondary trauma. Due to their continuous exposure to victims of trauma and violence, access to counseling services and peer support groups help telecommunicators cope with the stress and trauma that comes with the job. The aftermath of critical calls can lead to PTSD for many. A formal counseling program or a Critical Incident Stress Debriefing (CISD) after these types of calls can help your team process the experience and mitigate stress. Help challenge the stigma about stress and mental health within the emergency response field by giving your team the opportunity to heal.

Work-Life Balance: Striking a balance between work responsibilities and personal well-being is essential for employee satisfaction and retention. Flexible scheduling, adequate time off, and promoting self-care initiatives can help alleviate stress and prevent burnout. Retention is a universal issue in PSAPs and scheduling can be a difficult pain point. Do your best to communicate with your staff, hear their concerns, and try to compromise when possible.

Team Building Activities: Team-building activities and social events outside of work can strengthen bonds among staff members and promote a sense of camaraderie. Building a supportive network within the workplace helps employees feel connected and valued. It’s important for telecommunicators to have peers who can relate to their experience, offer support and advice, and just understand their questions, concerns, and problems.

Prioritize those who prioritize their dedication to 911

In public safety, a positive workplace culture is not just about improving employee morale; it’s about ensuring the effectiveness and efficiency of emergency response operations. By prioritizing communication, support (in the form of the right tools, training, and emotional support), recognition, work-life balance, and team building, PSAPs and 911 communications centers can create environments where employees feel empowered, valued, and motivated to make a difference in their communities. Investing in the well-being of staff is not only a sound recruitment and retention strategy but also a testament to the commitment to public safety and service excellence.