Social Media and Dirty Laundry

Late night I was shown a very public reply posted to a very private email circulated by management in a New England ambulance service expressing displeasure with the performance of many of their employees that some have interpreted led to the loss of a 911 contract that they have been given a second chance at.  Although the original email was never posted, the reply made on a craigslist page and signed by an “anonymous employee” called out management for their practices.  I read it, and I cringed.

The post itself was flagged for removal within the first eight hours of it being posted online which is fine, because I would not have linked it here as I personally felt it was in poor taste.  While there is a time and place for sharing with the outside what goes on in the inner workings of an organization this was a lot of dirty laundry to hang on the line for everyone to see.  Quite often they are posted too quickly with the thought that “if I let the public know what is going on here things are sure to get better!”  In actuality, all this does is increase the gap between the field and management.

As someone who has, in the past, pulled the pin on a grenade and tossed it into the fray, I can testify that actions like this do not help as much as many think that they will.  As my career progressed, I found it easier to write the email or memo and let it sit on the computer for a good couple of hours.  Then, I would come back and take a second look.  More often than not, my opinion would have evolved to an “it’s the same old complaint, it won’t help anyway.  I’ll keep it in my back pocket though.”  The draft would then be saved, and the window closed, as some fights are just not worth it.

The anonymous writer of this post clearly was upset, and I doubt that his or her intentions were completely malicious, they should realize that the damage they did might be irreparable.  While it might be fun for some people to stir the pot and sit back to see what happens actions like this one can effect a lot of lives.  I have not been able to figure out or not if these employees have a union but one must keep in mind that there is strength in numbers, and management grievances are much more appropriately run up the “chain” to build support and decide on a course of action.

Remember too that I am basing all of this opinion off of what the employee’s reply to management’s email.  I have no idea what was implied or said to the employees.  From the management standpoint, while harsh blunt words are sometimes necessary they must be used with care.  I have found that holding on to the positive aspects of what is going on is a far better motivator when morale is down.  It is easier to pull them up with positive words rather than push them up by stressing the avoidance of a negative.

I feel that this brings us back full circle to my opinion on transparency.  Maybe if the field employees had better access to what the problems were leading up to the termination or loss of the bid for the contract they could have worked together to find a better solution.

Working a 911 contract as a private ambulance provider creates a unique environment.  It is not often that this is the company’s only business venture, and there is some non-emergency work at least sprinkled into the mix.  It is not often that people get into EMS to hop on a truck and do hospital discharges.  People who love doing this exist, and they are great at their job and an asset to private companies but more times than not people want to throw on the lights and go speeding to the next emergency.

Private company 911 workers take a lot of pride in their emergency work.  They want to be there for the calls, and they get upset when those calls are not made the priority.  In my experience, this is a result of a company making too many contracts the “top priority” resulting in a big debate when a 911 call is sitting on a dispatcher’s screen next to a hospital discharge from a lucrative contract.  No one in the field wants to give that 911 away, and often dispatchers and those stuck in the middle (supervisors) are left with a very difficult decision because either way that you go someone is going to become upset about it.

There is an answer to this problem though and the key to it is involvement of middle and upper management in the information dissemination process to those in the field as well as the holders of the non-emergency contract and those left to make these difficult decisions on a daily basis.  People need to know what is going on, and be constantly informed and policies and procedures are key in achieving this.

The line between providing top notch emergency care and running a profitable business is an extremely fine one that needs constant attention.  That goes not only for “for-profit” businesses that answer to stake holders but also those other departments that use those profits for capital improvements and stuffing their community’s general funds to help the community at large.  EMS work is a for-profit business for everyone involved in it in one way or another.  There’s no getting around that.

The entire course of events that resulted in this craigslist post could certainly have been avoided.  The company itself could probably have conveyed their message to the employees in a little gentler manner, and the writer of the letter should have thought twice before pressing that “send” button and airing his company’s dirty laundry on the behalf of everyone else involved.  I wish them all luck though.  The fallout of this could be ugly.