July 2008 Issue Number 100
Is a monthly electronic newsletter which links current events and issues to the daily challenges faced by fire and emergency services managers. Current topics in the areas of leadership development, workplace diversity, change management, and conflict resolution will be discussed.
We hope that you find the information here useful and provocative.
Let us know what you think! If you'd like to subscribe to the newsletter, please enter your email address in the box below.
enter your email address
Executive Development, National Fire Academy Executive Fire Officer Program. Linda Willing will be teaching this class July 7-18, 2008.
Fire-Rescue International August 12-17, 2008 in Denver, CO. Linda Willing will be teaching as part of the pre-conference Company Officer Development track. Go to www.iafc.org for more information.
Longevity and Problem Employee
The story was all too familiar. A firefighter lost his job after a series of inappropriate behaviors on the job: harassing female coworkers with denigrating nicknames, making sexual jokes when referring to the events of 9/11, viewing and sending pornography on station computers. The worst part of this familiar story? The employee in question was an officer, with nearly 15 years on the job.
Whenever I teach conflict resolution classes, I always ask participants to think of a so-called problem employee from their organization. I tell them to think of a specific person, and then I ask: How long has this person been on the job? The answers are always the same: ten years, fifteen years, more than twenty years. Then I ask, Did this person give any indication of having these problems in the first two years on the job? The answer to this question is invariably yes.
So why is it that someone can be on the job for nearly fifteen years and be promoted at least once, and never have his or her tendencies toward inappropriate behavior dealt with in an effective way? There are two possible answers to this question. It might be that members of the organization have tried to deal with the problems, but have not been successful in doing so. Or it is equally likely that no one confronted the problem until it reached a crisis level.
There are firefighters (or people in any organization) who seem to make a career out of skating as close to the edge as they can. These people are usually very smart and know how to work the system. Everyone knows they are problems, but the few people who have tried to discipline them over the years have found themselves on the losing end of grievances or lawsuits. This record makes others gun shy, and as a result, the problem person seems to act with impunity.
But even with such career problem employees, there was always a beginning to the story. When they came on the job as rookies, they wanted to succeed the same as everyone else, and those in charge had many options for taking action if behavioral standards were not met. When a new firefighter says or does something inappropriate, it is possible to make sure that person knows never to say or do that thing again.
So what happens over the years? In many cases, the organizational culture will enable the employee who lives on the edge. In some departments, such people are looked at as heroes. In any case, there is often little incentive for those in supervisory positions to confront bad behavior. Some officers don't want to be seen as the bad guy, others have no skills or training in dealing with problem subordinates, others are so out of touch they may not even be aware of just how serious the problem has become.
People are responsible for their own actions, but whenever a crisis occurs that has been 15 years in the making, those in leadership roles also need to look at themselves, and ask, What could I have done 14 years ago that would have made a difference today?
Source: The American Statesman, June 17, 2008