Public safety employees and first responders see people at some of the most challenging points in their lives. Between the demanding hours and the challenging situations, it’s important that public safety employees feel supported by their department’s leadership.
Supporting your public safety employees will make them feel understood and valued at all times. Your best squad is a squad that’s both mentally and physically healthy. Without adequate mental health resources and support, your public safety employees won’t be able to support the communities they serve to the best of their abilities.
Here are five ways you can support your public safety employees:
1. Assign and Schedule Shifts Equitably and Fairly
The first way to support your public safety employees is to ensure your department policies are fair and equitable for everyone. Because of their demanding hours, tensions may arise if schedules are not created fairly and shifts are not assigned equitably. This tension and perceived favoritism within your department can potentially create a hostile work environment where not everyone feels heard, supported and listened to. Your junior personnel should feel just as supported and important as your senior personnel.
One way to remove any chance of perceived favoritism is by using scheduling software that can assign shifts equitably and fairly. Scheduling software can be configured to your agency’s rules, so your team knows every schedule is built based on seniority, job responsibilities and training certifications, rather than bias and favoritism.
2. Support mental health in your department's leadership style
Post-traumatic stress disorder is common within the public safety industry. Supportive messages from your department’s leadership can carry a lot of weight by showing how much value they place on mental health and support. Your leadership team can support their employees’ mental well-being by consciously encouraging them to seek mental health resources. Consider partnering up with a local counselor or therapist.
Another way in which your leadership can support mental health is by actively encouraging time off. By supporting both mental health resources and time off, you can help your public safety officers find the space they need to build their support systems at home.
3. Create mentoring bonds between your leadership and your personnel
Keep an eye out for ways to informally mentor your team members. Your junior personnel may feel more supported if they have a senior colleague who mentors them on a case-by-case basis in ways that are authentic and supportive. Encouraging mentorship within your department builds trust and helps your employees feel listened to.
Formal mentorship programs are also a great way to support your public safety employees. If your department currently doesn’t have a formal mentorship program in place, think about creating one so your junior personnel and responders have mentors they can connect with at every career milestone.
4. Reward and recognize your public safety personnel
Employees who feel recognized and heard are more likely to feel supported by their leadership. Whether it’s through training achievements or on-shift performance, it’s important to recognize your employees and their actions. Public safety employees risk their lives every day for the communities they serve, and they deserve to be recognized and rewarded for their actions.
Outside of your department, you can reward and recognize your public safety employees through activations within your communities. Partner with local businesses and organizations that have the resources to reward and thank your employees for their courageous actions.
5. Encourage Camaraderie On and Off Duty
Camaraderie is one of the best ways for employees to feel included and supported. Public safety employees have unique responsibilities and experiences compared to the general public, and in many cases, compared to their close network of family and friends. It’s important for public safety employees to not only have a person they can trust and feel supported by, but also someone who understands what they’re going through.
You can encourage camaraderie by creating positive bonding experiences through training opportunities and team-building exercises. If possible, create optional activities and bonding experiences outside of work, so employees can grow their support system at their own pace and will. By creating bonding experiences, you’re also creating loyalty within your employees’ inter-relationships, which is critical for law enforcement and public safety. Without loyalty and camaraderie, public safety employees may not confidently feel as if their colleagues would assist them on shift no matter what the peril.
The bottom line
It’s critical for your department to ensure your public safety employees feel supported. Their ability to bounce back from challenging and traumatic experiences is directly connected to the level of support they receive from their friends, family, colleagues and most importantly, their leadership.
Mental health awareness is important within every public safety industry. For more information on how you can improve mental health within your department, read this blog post on 5 Steps Fire Departments Can Take to Improve Mental Health.