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Supporting First Responders in their Work-Life Balance

Date:Thursday September 17, 2020

Every agency wants to get high-quality work from their employees, but it can be easy to confuse hours at work with commitment and quality. Whenever possible, it is important not to value employees by the amount of overtime or shifts they pick up, but rather by the dedication and skill they bring to every shift.

With the potential for burnout in the first responder population, it’s important to find ways to help employees achieve and maintain work-life balance, for their own sake as well as for the sake of your agency. When you can retain long-term employees, you get the benefits that come with experienced staff who can mentor and assist newer employees, and employees who don’t achieve a work-life balance are unlikely to stay with your agency long term.

So how can you help promote work-life balance? Here are a few ways:

Be Conscious of What Overtime and Other Extra Shift Work Does to Your Team: Every agency is different, so there may simply be some times when people work multiple long shifts without much of a break – these are the realities of the profession. However, if you notice that multiple team members are exhausted, irritable, or overwhelmed after particularly long-haul weeks or months, consider what is in your power to change. From potential comp time, to shift limits, to proactively hiring to avoid being understaffed, there are solutions to issues of constant overtime. Not every solution works everywhere, but looking at the schedule with this lens can help you promote work-life balance.

Approve Time Off Whenever Possible and Without Implying a Lack of Commitment: You may not need to change anything in your actual time-off policies to make some small changes that prioritize work-life balance. Encouraging team members when they request time off and frequently mentioning that PTO is there to be used can be powerful influences on ambitious first responders who feel they must work all the time in order to move up.

Create Opportunities for Advancement and Mentorship: While it may not seem like a connection to work-life balance, making a clear path for long-term employees can really help with turnover, which is notoriously high among many first responder agencies. When new hires, who may be prone to overwork, see the pace of those who are mentoring them at work and recognize that having a family and an outside-of-work life are valued, they can make better habits, judiciously using overtime rather than burning out on it too fast.

Obviously, agencies are often understaffed and cannot always stop overwork in every context. However, being aware of how overwork must be a short-term solution can help you prioritize what your team members really need in the long run.

Resources for Agencies Looking to Promote Work-Life Balance:

  • Consider sharing books like Emotional Survival by Dr. Kevin Gilmartin with your team, creating opportunities for conversations about what work-life balance should look like at your agency.
  • Share resources with practical tips, like this article about the Rule of Four, that proactively suggest how to prioritize one’s home life.
  • When first responders at your agency are already close to burnout, refer them to resources from the All Clear Foundation for in-the-moment needs, then work to address their specific concerns moving forward to build work-life balance over time.

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