“… Short-staffed… Doing more with less… Facing budget cuts.”

If you spend a few minutes conversing with anyone in public safety communications, you will likely hear the words, “we are short-staffed.” Everyone is “doing more with less,” “facing budget cuts,” and has a 20-60% shortage of personnel, which leads to the dreaded words, mandatory overtime. We want to take a few minutes to look at the root cause of this issue.

Turnover Rate in Public Safety Communications

This problem is not new. In 2005, APCO Project RETAINS indicated a 16% turnover rate in public safety communication. In 2009 Next Generation of APCO Project RETAINS announced that research had proven turnover rates for emergency communication centers (ECC) in the US were 19%. Fast-forward to 2017, APCO International commissioned a study by George Mason University’s Center for Social Science Research (CSSR), which showed the turnover has grown to 29% [ii].

The hiring and recruitment processes take an extraordinary amount of time. Agencies have been looking to streamline these processes with job fairs. Some agencies are even conducting on-the-spot interviews at job fairs. In addition, many agencies have turned to marketing on social media about position vacancies to reach the current job-seekers. However, agencies still face time parameters in conducting background investigations to ensure NCIC compliance and training time. One agency documented that it takes approximately 879 days to hire and train a replacement when one person leaves. Now compound that 2 ½ year process by 29%, and this is a profession in crisis.

This high turnover rate creates additional burdens of even more mandatory overtime, putting more strain on the Public Safety Telecommunicators that you can talk into staying. Those who remain often face burnout at increasing rates, given the burden. It is time for agencies to look at their hiring and recruitment practices and retention. Why are Public Safety Telecommunicators leaving this profession in droves? How can you maintain staffing while hiring and training new personnel?

80% of your personnel are not receiving performance feedback from you…”

An article published by Forbes states that many Managers or Directors spend 80% of their time on 20% of staff. That 20% includes your high-maintenance employees and your low performers. These statistics illustrate the significant problem in retention, 80% of your personnel are not receiving performance feedback from you. We need to retain that 80% and have to find ways to ensure that those in the 80% are receiving positive feedback on positive performance.

There is a high likelihood that within this 80% are those “sentry” employees who come to shift on time every day, perform according to policy and procedure, and do an excellent job. However, they are not begging for your attention and are not making errors, leaving them highly unrecognized. Personnel crave to be appreciated. Positive feedback and appreciation generate more loyalty than any amount of money. (Although we can all agree that increased pay is nice, too.)

One of the quickest and most effective ways of ensuring that the 80% receive some attention is by administering a comprehensive quality assurance/quality improvement program. With dynamic QA/QI software, we complete random performance evaluations, eliminating the accusations of, “You only look at my bad calls.”

The results were stunning when my previous agency implemented QA/QI reviews. One of the midnight shift personnel, a younger gentleman, hands down, provided the most outstanding customer service. His customer service blew me away. He had been part of the 80%, sitting on midnights making zero waves. That is until his quality reviews proved he was our #1 top performer across the board in compliance, customer service, and timeliness in processing. He was a hidden gem that had been disregarded for years.

What happened afterward is part of the unexpected bonus. This gentleman continued to improve. He was there whenever needed to help pull an extra shift. He became even more loyal and dedicated to the agency. Another unexpected benefit is that he continued to improve, pulling up the performance of those who worked with or around him! He was peer-voted as Telecommunicator of the Year. He became a trainer and a leader in the center. All because we discovered his amazingness through a quality program and pulled him out of the forgotten 80%. Agencies operating without a quality program will not likely find those hidden gems.

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About The Author

Lori Preuss, CPE

Lori Preuss, CPE, has been actively engaged in public safety communications since 1987. Lori has worked in various public safety, public safety communications, and commercial positions within the industry, providing a unique perspective. Lori has performed as an Instructor in public safety communications since 1997. In addition, Lori served the FL Chapter of APCO as Chapter President in 2008. A dedicated lifelong learner, Lori has a bachelor’s degree in Adult Vocational Education and Industry Training, with an area of specialization in Public Safety Telecommunications. Lori is a Certified Public Safety Executive (CPE) through APCO International.