Throughout your career, chances are you’ve heard the cries of uninspired coworkers:
“Morale is low!”
“Morale can’t get any lower!”
“Morale is at its lowest point since I got here!”
But how do you measure morale? If you’re happy to come to work and content to do your job, are you supposed to be unhappy like the rest of the team? Is there even an objective way of measuring morale? Is it five out of 10, or is it at 78%? How can you possibly measure the morale of an EMS organization?
Before trying to answer these questions, ask your co-workers to define morale. Most will tell you it’s the general feeling in the workplace, and some would describe it as the emotional or mental condition of those who work for the EMS organization. Either way, both definitions stress how important morale is to those working for you.
If unsure if morale is low in your EMS organization, try looking at some internal indicators. These include people who suddenly leave in the middle of the shift with little or no notice, a high incidence of sick leave and tardiness, and staff who show up for work at the last minute and are out the door as soon as their relief arrives.
Another indicator of low morale is how people dress. Sharp-dressed employees who take pride in how they look are usually a good indicator, while employees who skirt along the dress code regulations are usually a red flag.
Finally, a major indicator of employee morale is turnover. As an EMS manager, are you constantly replacing people? Even retirements can be a sign—just because someone is eligible to retire, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to leave the work that they love doing. If every time you turn around an employee is submitting a resignation letter because they are taking a job someplace else, chances are, you have a morale problem.
If you ignore morale problems and stick your head in the sand like some ostrich, I can guarantee the problem is not going to go away on its own. EMS managers can do several things to raise morale:
Show your employees you care about them. After all, why should they care about anything—the job they are asked to do, their safety, issues that are impacting their job performance and a variety of other matters—if you don’t care about them? As I like to say, they don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.
You should always look and act professional. As the leader, you represent everything about the EMS organization you work for. Everyone watches your every step and hangs on your every word, so you should dress the part. Looking sloppy and unkempt sends a bad message to your employees.
Restore faith in your employees by trusting them. It should never be an “Us vs. Them” attitude between the management team and the employees. Try visiting the ambulance stations your crews work out of and have a meal with them. Lots can be said over the breaking of bread, and opening communications with your employees can significantly improve morale. Boosting spirits can also be as simple as having an open-door policy for employees who want to discuss problems or issues. Still, that doesn’t just mean listening to employees and thanking them for coming with no action afterward. Remember—they want to know that you care!
When taking steps to raise morale, you should also be mindful not to do things that can lower it. For example, lying to your employees is the last thing you want to do as an EMS manager because it causes you to lose credibility. This can also cause your employees to suspect you are lying about how much you care about them, which can void all previous efforts.
Never throw your people under the bus. You’re the leader of the EMS organization, so be the leader. That means sometimes making tough decisions and taking responsibility for those choices. Don’t pass off the pressure by blaming others.
Some might think improving morale is as simple as giving out big raises and benefits every year, but this isn’t true. Studies have repeatedly shown that employee satisfaction is not strictly based on pay and benefits. Increasing pay does not necessarily show employees that you care.
Morale will never improve overnight. It is a long climb out of the hole, which means solutions should be implemented today if there is a problem. Also remember to not let your team’s low morale rub off on you and affect your enthusiasm—and your duty—to make it better. For me, I love what I do and never let anybody tell me how I should feel otherwise!