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Laundry Bins, Pay Raises & Other Morale Measures

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“Morale is the lowest it has ever been!” As an EMS provider or administrator, I am quite certain you’ve heard that sometime during your career. And just when you thought morale couldn’t get any lower, you heard it again the next month. You wondered, “How can this be? We are working so hard to improve things.” In my experience, “measuring” morale is relative and morale is a reflection of an organization’s culture.

When employees report how bad morale is, listen to their concerns. Why does the reporting party think this, and what specific circumstances have created the “lowest moral ever”? If there are valid safety concerns, it’s time to take care of it—as soon as possible. Your employees and your organization shouldn’t be placed at unnecessary risk. If they don’t have the necessary equipment, supplies and facilities to do the job, set a plan of action to get what’s needed. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is as true in the workplace as it is in daily life. These are “needs” and not “wants.” It’s an administrator’s responsibility to ensure all basic needs are met to perform the duties required for your personnel.

Once basic needs are met, you can turn your attention to the wants. This can be determined by understanding what your employees value. Managers and providers alike often think pay is the only issue: If they made more money, their morale would improve. I’ve found this to be a huge misconception. Everyone is happy to get a raise, but it rarely affects the long-term morale of a company. That doesn’t mean employees shouldn’t be paid livable wages, but one can’t improve morale by pay raises only. Morale will be back to “the lowest it’s ever been” within a short period of time, although employees will be better paid. The actual solutions are more difficult and will require work on your part.

What do your employees value? Let’s go back to Maslow; beyond physiological needs, safety and security are first. We should do what we can to make sure employees have long-term successful employment. If we invest time and resources, our employees will know they are valued, they won’t worry about making the cut, and you won’t worry about substandard employees. We’ve moved up the pyramid to “belonging,” “esteem” and maybe even “self-actualization.” This takes real leadership.

Your goal should be to make everyone successful within your organization. Will everyone make it? Of course not. However, those who don’t will be because of the individual’s performance and not the company’s lack of investment. Personal and professional development can go a long way to moving up Maslow’s pyramid, incentivizing the troops and motivating improvement in both attitude and organizational performance.

Morale is Cultural
In some organizations, individuals thrive on the pity party. The water cooler (ambulance ramp) talk can turn into a whine session about the woes of the organization, poisoning employees’ enthusiasm and diminishing company success. As supervisors and administrators, we need to change the tide and highlight the great things going on in your company.

Historically, EMS does a poor job selling its attributes and accomplishments. The same is true within EMS agencies. Remember to give your employees something good to talk about and don’t assume they already know it. Advertise the great work the company is doing both to internal staff and externally to the community.

Adopting an open-door policy will help you identify what’s important to your employees. If you can ignite enthusiasm, those employees will help you carry the message out to the troops. Also consider employee surveys, newsletters and staff meetings as an opportunity to both receive information and share what is happening within the company.

You can’t do everything at once. Define the needs and wants of the organization and then develop a plan. Morale is often relative to where a company is at on it’s to journey to being the best it can be (this is what is meant by “self-actualization”).

One of my prouder movements in EMS management came during a supervisor’s meeting. There was a fairly intense debate among the supervisors about placing laundry bins in the stations and statements were made that it “was affecting morale.” This was a great opportunity to help me put things in perspective for the whole group and recall the foundational issues that we previously tackled (financial stability, quality care, turf issues, etc.). I considered the debate around laundry bins a high pyramid issue and a measure of success of the leadership team. We had done well throughout the years and celebrated that success, but we can always do better as long as we keep listening to issues at all levels of the pyramid. The stations were outfitted with laundry bins and all is good … until the next issue surfaces.

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