All day long, we watch people. We watch our screens and our pending calls for service. We watch our units and make sure they're safe and make sure we have them in the correct location at all times. We're watching the bad guy. We're watching the streets for anything suspicious. We're watching out for our and our partner’s safety in the field. Watching and being observant is something that we're trained to do during our shifts and the entire time we're in uniform.
But what we often forget while we're watching everything that goes on around us, especially those of us who work inside, is that someone is watching us. The corrections officers have to worry about the inmates, watching them and waiting for a weakness. The field units have to worry about the bad guy watching him, looking for an opportunity to commit a crime or to cause him harm. Supervisors and managers have their subordinates watching and looking to them for leadership and direction. And we all have to be concerned with being watched by the public or members of the media.
I would like to remind you of another set of eyes that are always upon you. Trainees are like what I like to call little sponges, much like toddlers and teens. Just when you think that no one is listening or watching … think again! Trainees are normally very engaged and inquisitive about their new job and surroundings. They're very excited to embark on their new career and want to learn as much as they can as fast as they can. Who wants to be the new guy? They want to get that training over with as soon as they possibly can so they can be on their own as soon as possible, right?
Projecting the Right Image
Training can be rewarding but it can also be challenging and downright exhausting at times. It takes a special person to be a trainer. You have to have the right combination of patience, knowledge and enthusiasm for the job in general. Typically, trainers are held to a higher standard than the rest of staff. You want your best people as trainers and instructors. Are you projecting the right image at all times?
Do you ever find yourself venting or complaining about your center, department, co-workers or management? We all have bad days. We all have days we wished that human resources had just lost our application and never called us for that interview how ever many years ago. We all have those moments when we spill a string of words or comments out that we hope no one heard or that we wish we could take back. But the reality is that once they're said, there's no taking them back.
We have to be mindful of the image that we're portraying to our rookies. Do we really want them starting out with them second guessing their career choice?
Back in the day, in my experience anyway, it was pretty much the school of hard knocks. You either conformed, got out or your life was miserable until you did. “Sink or swim” they used to say. Today training standards have been developed to assist the trainee as much as possible to succeed. So the least we can do as trainers and even as co-workers is give them a positive atmosphere in which to learn and grow. Trainees are trying to find their fit at a new agency or shift. They are paying close attention to all the nuances of their surroundings including the things that are not on their trainee check-off sheet.
If you're in a division that has low morale and high turnover perhaps we should consider that one of the reasons for the added stress is found within ourselves. Yes, low pay and long hours are things to be upset about, but can we really do anything about those things? Unless you are in a management position, and most of the time even not then, you unlikely have any say over budget items and/or being short staffed. But what one watch commander recently reminded me is that you can control your immediate environment and how you react to those around you.
If there is one thing that will send a public safety worker over the edge is to tell them they have no control over something. We have to remind ourselves that while we are accustomed to being in the driver’s seat, we need to remember that our actions speak louder than words and that perception is everything. If we want to make our workplace into a more pleasant environment we should start with ourselves. If we can plant the seed of professionalism in our trainees, hopefully they will grow into a productive employee and not fall victim to the mediocre. They will set a new standard using you as their inspiration. Eventually when the problem children no longer have an audience to feed their negative behavior they will either step into line or they will find another sand box to play in.
Remember, trainees will mirror the behavior that they witness and employees will behave they way they are allowed to behave. If we conduct ourselves as if we're always being watched, no matter where we are and who we are with, you will rarely have any problems and you just may get the working atmosphere you're longing for.
Supervisors and managers might also want to remember that they're always in the spotlight as well. Supervision with respect, honesty and fairness will in the long run give you loyalty and respect in return. It's very hard for those who transfer from being a co-worker to supervisor to make that transition. Hopefully they're able to separate those friendships with the authority that comes with their new responsibilities. You have to remember that you're being watched by your subordinates. If you can successfully balance these things from the get go you’ve got half the battle won.
So as you put on the uniform for the beginning of your shift, remember that you're also turning on that limelight that we all try to avoid. Let’s remember to let your professionalism shine through not the negative. As one of my favorite supervisors says, “Fake it ‘til you make it!” Whenever our shift starts grumbling, she always smiles and reminds us of this little saying. We all want a positive work environment. Remember why you chose this profession in the first place; remember that you're proud to serve! But most of all, remember that we're all under a watchful eye, no matter where we are or who we're with.