Positive Recognition in 911 Call Centers

In The Resilient 911 Professional, author Jim Marshall’s description of the profession’s rigors illuminates this point:

“Dispatchers are a proud yet humble group. But we are suffering.”

In a field full of unsung heroes, 911 dispatchers are often among the least recognized.

As essentially invisible support staff, they receive little public awareness or understanding of their job stressors compared with law enforcement and fire professionals. Even the agencies they serve may not fully understand just how tense and outright challenging the role can be.

Burnout, lack of work engagement, and mental health issues that follow employees home from work are just three flavors of the trouble 911 professionals can face. The lack of closure inherent in the job can be maddening and highly damaging to their morale, as reported in Chicago Magazine and countless other sources.

But in many cases, a little positive recognition may be all it takes to counteract these issues, or at least take the edge off in a way that allows these essential professionals to continue their work with fewer adverse effects.

The power of positive recognition: Supervisors lead the charge

A legitimately kind word from a supervisor can go a long way towards improving one’s job satisfaction. And the more effort the organization puts into communicating those kind words, the better they feel.

As one Officer.com piece puts it, this basic fact of working life can be especially impactful in a field where so many people feel invisible or undervalued on a day-to-day basis.

Generally speaking, you can break recognition down into two categories:

  • Informal celebratory remarks, which are often handed down in person and come after what would merit a thank you or expression of gratitude: Praising a new dispatcher for hitting all their points and non-negotiables in their first live, monitored call, for instance.
  • Formal celebratory remarks, which—as the name implies—come in a more documented, formal format and tend to celebrate bigger accomplishments: Sending an email to the entire office after that same employee hits all the same points for 15 consecutive calls, for instance.

The Officer.com piece recommends following the second example as much as possible since sending emails and carrying out other, similarly formalized practices—attaching “good job reports” to employee records, for one example—conveys a real sense of organizational support.

Training your supervisors for successful recognition

How can agencies make sure their dispatchers receive an acceptable level of meaningful, authentic praise and recognition? They can train their supervisors on how to do carry it out.

While we all know how difficult it can be to accept a compliment, formulating them in a way that is professional, meaningful to the recipient, and earnest can be quite a challenge, too.

Tips and talking points here include:

  • Learn what type of recognition will mean the most to each employee.
  • Avoid overreliance on email and tech tools—after the first few, everyone starts scanning those recognition emails instead of clicking them, after all.
  • Scale responses appropriately to the positive performance being recognized.

Building a culture of recognition

Another basic fact of a specialized workplace: Supervisors and the employees they manage often have substantially different roles, making it challenging to recognize the areas that need a little positive attention.

As a company providing training and HR software to dispatch organizations like yours, we’ve seen a few cultural elements that stand out in terms of positive change. This short list is far from exhaustive, but we believe public safety organizations can benefit from programs implementing the following:

Create official channels for documenting praiseworthy behavior

Employees want to support one another, and they tend to support initiatives with dedicated tools and procedures in place.

Ideas here might include:

  • A program that rewards employees for recognizing the good work of their peers and calling it out via an official form or email.
  • Gamification—systems that let employees “collect good deeds,” in effect, for the chance to win prizes.

Establish informal “floor leaders” to collect positive information

Motivated, trustworthy employees are great allies here. Simply asking them to keep an eye on their colleagues (in a positive way) and call out good work to supervisors can be a great way to keep your finger on the pulse of your organization.

Include dispatchers in follow-ups

Including relevant dispatchers in a debriefing, particularly when they’ve been involved in a highly emotionally troubling case, can bring a sense of closure and contribute to overall well-being. It may also be considered a form of recognition, since those deeply involved in the case are the ones who receive a debriefing—a mark of organizational respect that can resonate with dispatchers.

Address obstacles

Many factors can detract from an organization’s ability to instill a culture of positive recognition. Poor management skills and negative traits—such as an inappropriate desire to be liked or too strong a tendency to over enforce rules—can make it difficult for dispatchers to feel genuinely recognized and worthy in the workplace. And on a more general level, data silos and other artifacts of legacy training/technology systems can also inhibit the proper flow of information. Addressing these issues in your efforts to improve positive recognition can have many other benefits. Don’t ignore them if you feel their presence in your dispatch organization/division.


Emergency responders are essential to saving lives, and dispatchers are essential to getting them there. That makes them as important as any link in the emergency services chain, and they are just as vulnerable to unique stressors as the ground-level employees responding to calls.

Take time to give them the recognition they deserve, in ways and formats they’ve indicated they like best, and everyone—employees, their supervisors, callers, and more—will be better off for it.

Want a system designed to integrate positive recognition into your organization’s processes?

Posted on Jun 22, 2021