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Archive for May, 2012

Impacts of coffeepot predators

May 18th, 2012

Dear Reader: Please note that the following collection of coffeepot predators is a composite based on 30 years of observation in the course of consuming caffeine. I am not currently in a coffee club and am in no way pointing fingers at any current colleagues.

At work do you ever wonder who leaves the last cup of coffee in the pot? In these instances, there is not quite enough in the pot for another full cup. However, there is too much of throw away. Because of the frequency of this, you suppose that cannot be pure coincidence. Even the most trusting soul would conclude that someone is jockeying to avoid making the next pot of coffee for the group. The coffeepot predator has struck once again.

Before we delve into this behavior, we might question the merit of this particular complaint. In other words, is such a little bad habit really worth the bother? The answer is that it could be. It depends on a number of factors including the duration and intensity of the problem. Also, we have to consider the tolerance of all people in the group.

First of all, in the stressful job such as corrections, staff unity is occasionally strained. In addition, because we depend on one another for safety, little acts of inconsideration can compound and produce fractures on this crucial working relationship. Third, offenders watch our moods and interactions. They see division, even if it is over who makes next pot of coffee. Given that and an enterprising handler, a point of departure into the set up is provided. And we all know that manipulation can lead to breaches of security, uneven enforcement of rules, introduction of contraband, and inter-collegial distrust.

In theory, a coffeepot fund is a wonderful thing. Colleagues donate money and or coffee and cream and sugar. In exchange, one can drink coffee throughout the entire workday. That is the theory. In practice, we often encounter some coffee oriented behavior the stresses the good relationship between coworkers.

Here are some irritating little behaviors connected to a coffeepot fund that can steadily erode staff relations:

Jockey – Described above, this is the person who times it so he or she never makes a pot of coffee. Although it seems like a lot of effort and observation to avoid work, this is a common coffeepot predator.

Coffees Czar – Sometimes when the coffee club is without leader, a strong figure is needed. This is a person who takes charge, the person who reminds colleagues to donate money and supplies as necessary. However, the Coffees Czar can become an autocratic, bullying and badgering figure.

Feigned failure – A passive way to avoid making coffee can be achieved when someone makes a horribly weak or incredibly strong pot of coffee. If it is bad enough, the rest of the coffee club will forbid another pot from this person. It seems unbelievable for someone to stoop to that. Still, I’ve seen many intelligent people over the years play dumb and sabotage a pot in order to avoid a task.

Flattery – Some in the coffee club will fawn over the coffee making ability of others in order to avoid making a pot themselves. Working the ego of a colleague in order to make a cheap gain seems like an act of low integrity. There are some out there who use this tactic.

El Cheapo – Most coffee clubs at one time or another have an el cheapo. These are the people who do not pay for the privilege of drinking coffee. They may promise, but they never pay nor do they bring in supplies. It’s also in the form of someone who steals coffee – waiting until it seems that no one is looking and taking a cup without donation.

It would be an empty exercise to simply identify staff dividers such as coffeepot predators. Incidentally, this is certainly not limited to corrections staff. You can find these archetypes in any number of occupational subgroups. However, since staff unity is so crucial in supporting our mission of safety, the coffeepot predator poses a more serious problem in corrections than in other vocations. Here are some solutions:

1. If there are chronic abusers but the identities are vague, a meeting can be called and this could be brought to the fore. Perhaps to avoid embarrassment, a few quick guidelines of conduct can be outlined by the coffee leader.

2. Charts or sign-up sheets can be created to fairly determine who will bring supplies and at what time.

3. Tact is important. Accusations should be proven before issued.

4. Check yourself. Be aware of your own flaws within the system before you attack others.

5. Lighten up. It is only a coffee club, after all.

6. Balance the importance of your appointment as Coffee Czar. Apply the least pressure possible when action is necessary.

It may seem strange to dissect behaviors in a group setting with a collective goal of providing coffee. However, big problems can be tied to little offenses such as undesired behavior in a coffee club. You could regard this as an awareness of potentially bigger problems. Understanding some of these behaviors and having solutions at hand is worthwhile in order to keep staff unity.

The steady drop of water through five heaping tablespoons of coffee produces a bitter brew. Much the same can be said of colleagues who maneuver to avoid little jobs and push them onto others. Like a rhythmic annoyance, the coffeepot predator never fails to irritate. Little things mean a lot. Positive staff relations can be strained through minute, steady applications of ill-will. But they can be repaired through awareness and action.

Staff relations

The role of communication in contraband control

May 11th, 2012

Have you ever asked yourself, “What is the best contraband available to staff?” In various incarnations of the presentation that I deliver called Wake up and Smell the Contraband, I have asked participants their many opinions of what is the best contraband control tool. Some of offered these as top candidates: mirrors on telescoping handles, metal detectors, cell phone detectors, and drug sniffing dogs. These are just a few of the many answers offered.

All of those have somewhat specialized functions. Still, there is an answer that is consistently offer that is neither mechanical nor electronic. And I’ve heard these answers in formal and informal queries from jail and prison staff. This tool transcends all levels and agencies geographical limits. And it is an answer that has remained consistent over the years. The tool of choice for many corrections professionals is communications.

In the war against contraband where safety is our major goal, communications is useful for many reasons:
• It is already built into the system. There is an official chain of command which information flows. Also unofficial vines snake through our operations. When any contraband tip is uncovered, the staff body who communicates well will disseminate the information to all corners.
• Communications is not just conducted in verbal mode. It can also be done electronically. E-mail is nothing new to corrections. However, with digital cameras information flows from screen to screen with pictorial clarity. Clarity comes in different forms and in different potencies. Less is lost in translation with the written and picture communications.
• In addition, there is permanence with electronic record. It is something that can be reviewed long after it is initially sent.
• Communication opens up professional synapses. As information is conveyed, different parties can add stories and ideas. This is a sort of brainstorming and recollection that aids in the contraband control process. Staff benefit as the data travels. The more stories and information, the better store of tools.
• Staff communication has a wider potential than is normally employed. Communication should be expanded in those cases. We should always remember to disseminate two different shifts, different areas, and other institutions. Sometimes, news of something found in food services on midnights does not make it to for example, the library. This could be a critical error if materials from library are used for the enterprise in the kitchen. If all parties are not notified, preventative measures are less likely to occur. That example points to the interconnectedness of operations. In short there is never too much information about contraband between staff.

Of course, with all jobs there are certain tools that need to be employed. And while communications is a very important component in the toolbox is safety, it is not the only tool. However, when used in conjunction with crime mapping shared observations and various search tactics, our chances for enhancing safety in our facilities is increased.

Contraband Control