After taking the summer off, except for the incredibly successful Pinnacle pre-conference workshop that we conducted, we are back with a new EMS Dashboard Confessional! This story illustrates some of the hazards of not doing the right thing at the time, and how they can impact people many years down the line.
One of the more regretful management decisions I made was several years ago but I didn’t realize it until recently. I was speaking with a past coworker who had been in charge of our outside training and regularly conducted educational sessions for the local fire departments. She was teaching a course one morning to a group who were incredibly disrespectful to her. The behavior was such that it most definitely harassing and something that we had both a legal and ethical obligation to address. I contacted the Fire Chief to inform him of the inappropriate behavior and asked him to assist us in investigating the incident. A few days later, he informed me that the firefighters acknowledged some inappropriate behavior but denied it was as severe as was reported by the employee. I told him that the accusations were sufficiently detailed to make them unlikely to be fabricated or exaggerated and asked for a written report that included the steps of his investigation and what remedial measures were being taken. He told me that he was not going to do this because it would end up a grievance from the union and that it would draw negative attention to his department. He told me that his hands were tied and that he could not do anything.
I went to my company owner and expressed my outrage and dissatisfaction of the Fire Chief’s position, and that we had to stand behind our employee, both from a legal but also a morale and ethical perspective. The owner told me that I should not push things too far as we wouldn’t want to jeopardize or position as the privately contracted ambulance provider in the community. I expressed my disagreement with this position and said that I felt we should contact the City Council. The owner told me that we were not going to do this and that I should just “let it go”. I knew that this was the wrong decision but I failed to stand up for this employee and do the right thing.
Recently, I reconnected with this employee. We chatted for a while about the “old days”. She recalled that story and got emotional telling me that it really had caused her great emotional stress over these last seven years. I had forgotten about the incident until she recalled it. I explained and relayed this entire story to her, and she told me that I had never followed up with her at that time. I had completely blocked that from my memory that I failed to get back to her. I had believed I was a relatively evolved leader until that day, one who stood up for their people and did what was right. I now know that I have a long way to go.
As I reflect on that incident and how I handled it, I am embarrassed. I am ashamed that I let her down and further, that I erased my failure from my memory. By doing so, I likely allowed this behavior to repeat itself with some other unsuspecting, undeserving person. For nearly 7 years, she was left in limbo. On top of that, we worked together for another year or so and she continued to work her backside off for me and that company. To further my embarrassment, the reason we had reconnected after 7 years was because I asked her to help with a project. She didn’t even hesitate to say yes. She was a true professional. More so that I could ever hope to be. This type of behavior happens nearly every day in EMS and in other industries. So much so that it is overlooked by almost everyone. It will continue until we all take responsibility for our actions, that includes me.
First, this confessional tells us that we still have a long way to go. We continue to talk about harassment and discrimination, and about #metoo, and how much more enlightened we are, but in the end it’s still easy to fall victim to external pressures or apathy. As an industry, we have cultural issues that we still need to get a handle on to properly address this type of conduct. Remember, the conduct you walk past is the conduct that you accept.
More importantly, this shows me just how impactful this type of behavior can be on the recipient. Seven years later, this woman still remembered exactly what happened, and it continued to color her work relationships. The fact that, after all these years, she still jumped in to help the author with a project is a testament to her integrity and work-ethic, as I’m sure that many of us would not have done that.
Finally, the self-awareness that the author shows here is incredible from a place of personal growth. Not only in finally identifying the problems that he created, but in the insight he shows in admitting that he completely put this out of his mind. I think we have all made a decision like this sometime and forgotten about it as a defense mechanism. We are all human. But remember that, even if you’ve moved past it, the other person probably has not.
If you’ve gotten to this point in the story, please take a moment and tell us your own. Use the link here to tell us about a decision or action that you wish you had handled differently.