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Ideas a medic may have for building department morale

Here’s an example of what improving morale would look like from an employe’s perspective

Updated June 2015

Dear management team:

Please stop preaching about the need for better customer service and cleaner ambulance stations. Those things will take care of themselves if you pay attention to the morale around here. I know, I’m just a medic and shouldn’t be telling you how to do your job. But I thought it was worth the risk to offer some suggestions from the street.

Yeah, I realize that morale goes up and down. But think of it as a barometer of street motivation—an indicator of enthusiasm, commitment and loyalty. Sure, it’s all perception, but you’ve got to realize that perception is everything. Morale is not just about how things are but how they’re perceived. Managing morale is about managing perception.

If you want to know how to improve morale, ask us … and then listen. We’ll tell you why we lose heart, what’s wrong with customer service and how, together, we can make this place great. But here’s a warning: We’re a little suspicious. Don’t do token listening; we can tell when you’ve been to a seminar and come back with some new “active listening” or “rounding” processes. We see through them. We’re not needy children who need therapeutic listening; listen to us because you believe we have valuable observations and information. If you don’t believe that, don’t waste our time. We hate managers who sit and listen because “we need to be heard.”

If you do listen to us, know that your actions speak much louder than your words. We’re not interested in management answers and long-winded explanations. Don’t tell us how you’ve changed—just listen to us and then show us. Do something we can admire.

Show us that you’re dedicated to doing what’s right, not what’s expedient. Convince us that we matter more than the next rung in your career ladder. We don’t expect miracles; we just want the truth and to know that you’re fighting for us. Tell us so much truth that it hurts. We can handle it. I’ll trust you more if you are honest about what you don’t know, what you are confused about, how much you make and what scares you. I want to follow leaders who are so honest that they’re vulnerable.

Here’s something else: Your message needs to be consistent. I’m more than willing to focus my energy on following your lead, but you’re like atrial fib: You’re consistently inconsistent. You preach about customer service, but no one believes it because you reward and punish people for things like billing info, bumper dings and checklists. Look at what you spend most of your time talking about in staff meetings and performance reviews.

One other thing: Deal with the problem people. We hate it when you fail to address the poor performers and those who drag things down. I’m not talking about gross infractions; I’m talking about the ones who don’t fit, can’t do the job or are negative about everything. How can we think you’re serious about great performance when you continue to tolerate poor performance? This applies to the management team as well as the frontline staff. We all know who we’re talking about.

Finally, give me a clear picture of where we’re headed this year. Don’t wave the mission statement at me—I want to know where you’re taking this place. What, specifically, is going to be different this time next year? Give me a direction to follow.

One more thing. I hate low morale. It sucks to come to work when people are suspicious and complaining. I want to change it, but I need to trust that you care about improving morale. Fix the morale problem and I promise, everything else will get better.

John Becknell is the founding publisher of Best Practices and a consultant and partner at SafeTech Solutions (

Produced in partnership with NEMSMA, Paramedic Chief: Best Practices for the Progressive EMS Leader provides the latest research and most relevant leadership advice to EMS managers and executives. From emerging trends to analysis and insight, practical case studies to leadership development advice, Paramedic Chief is packed with useful, valuable ideas you simply can’t get anywhere else.
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