Face it, Emergency Medical Services is an under-paid and too often under-appreciated field. And if you are volunteering, it is an UN-Paid and still under-appreciated field. In today’s economy with budget cuts and shrinking budgets, money, or the lack of it, only adds to the problem and too often is construed as “punishment”.
So what can administrators do to improve morale? And in doing so, improve agency performance? What will make the difference in maintaining volunteers in unpaid agencies?
We’ve all heard the expression to lead by example. We shouldn’t limit that example to only actions, it also includes your emotions. People will look to you to see how they should act and react and especially when things seem to be out of order, if you maintain calm they will find it easier to believe that things will work out. If you are happy and show them that, they will see the things they should be happy about. If you seem defeated, act angrily or let them see you are overwhelmed, they will worry that something is happening beyond your control. If your members need to talk, be more interested in listening than talking yourself and do not lecture.
Leadership is the first area to affect morale. A good leader is skilled, understands the duties and responsibilities of those working under her, preferably a medical professional, abides by the rules and treats everyone fairly and the same. Extremely important, a leader must be able to rise above negative emotions and not get embroiled in strife. In many ways the leadership must be almost superhuman in the ability to control his emotional output. Not every talented practitioner is cut out to be a leader.
Pre hospital care providers do a lot of good things, some of their cases don’t have good outcomes, some are bothersome, but without our first responders a lot of people wouldn’t have the chance that they do. They need to feel appreciated. Recognition and rewards are just one way to say thank you – the rewards don’t need to be significant, they just need to be something that makes it special, inexpensive gift cards, their name posted on an “employee wall”, a preferred parking space for a month, a fruit basket, etc.
Names of providers who have gone above and beyond can be read at monthly meetings, sent to the local newspaper, posted on the company website. Acknowledge what they do and how proud you are of them.
Boost company morale with togetherness activities to take place outside of work time – picnics, bowling or golf outings, family breakfast where members can invite family members. Keeping members’ families involved helps the strengthen the providers’ personal support system doing this high stress job. During work shifts, the administration can bring in weekly pizza, show movies in the break room, or install a game system in the break room for crews that need to stand-by at the building.
These are just some suggestions that will work for both paid and volunteer agencies, depending on what is available in your area you might come up with other ideas as well. Be sure to let your members make suggestions, too.
Another activity that will not only foster togetherness between the members but will also prove uplifting is to organize things like clothing drives, food pantry collections, or delivering toys to needy families. As one pre-hospital care provider had to say, “this gives us the opportunity to do something with our co-workers, do good for the community, and not deal with the blood and gore we normally do.”
Another issue that volunteer squads have is ensuring round the clock coverage – with so many people working second jobs and busy family lives, volunteerism is often far below need. Many such agencies decide to pay for coverage during the greatest time of need. This is an area that must be dealt with gently. You cannot pay your own volunteers, once they become your employee they cannot continue to volunteer as per the 1986 Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) so you need to prepare for the loss of their volunteer hours.
According to a Connecticut based company called Vintech, an agency can “lease” employees – aside from letting the company dealing with staffing coordination and other personnel issues, even if your own volunteers work for the company you lease from, they are not your employees and therefore can still volunteer without violating FLSA.