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The road to safety: Benefits of staff unity
By Joe Bouchard and Tracy Barnhart
Published: 01/30/2010

Road painted desert arizona A conversation between Joe Bouchard and Tracy Barnhart

Imagine that you have a long, gravel drive way. Twice each day, you dodge a large hole that has formed. Then one day, you acquire a load of limestone and fix the hole. There will be a transition time that you dodge the hole that is not there.

When we fix staff division in our corrections workplace, we experience a time where we try to circumvent an obstruction that really is not there. Isn’t it wonderful when we no longer have to dodge a problem because it simply is no longer there? Just as with a repaired pothole, there are benefits to a staff division problem that is no longer there

Joe Bouchard:
The primary benefit of staff unity is obvious to me – enhanced safety. I think that when we can take a break from fighting with colleagues (covertly and overtly) we can devote our time to other things. Our primary purpose in corrections is for the sake of safety. We are liberated from infighting and can monitor and observe the behavior of offenders. Watching offenders and performing policy and law driven services is time consuming. But it is our job. And the less effort we spend in fighting each other, the more time we can devote to our true profession.

Tracy Barnhart:
I also feel that Staff security is obvious but into that staff camaraderie. I remember when I was in the Marine Corps we did an operation on Coronado Island off the coast of California. In that exercise they posed monitors to assess injured and dead among our ranks as we completed the exercise. In doing this they attempted to throw problems and roadblocks at us to see how we would react. The amazing thing was that as soon as a marine was assessed as dead or injured, he was to immediately fall down and lay still. We were such a close nit group that before the Marine hit the dirt after being assessed as dead, another Marine was picking him up and carrying him the extraction sight. We would have never thought of leaving someone behind or that another Marine was not doing his job to the best of his ability. I wonder how many corrections employees have this same mentality and view of their peers?

Joe Bouchard:
I think that many corrections professionals feel this way. And that camaraderie is so important when we have a goal to achieve.

It is a shame, however, that there are a few squeaky wheels that disrupt the blissful silence of a potentially harmonious workplace. When one of those “squeaky wheels” moves to another part of the facility or transfers out of the system, the benefit is almost immediate. Stress in the area melts away. We start to feel better about going to work when we know that a chief complainer is gone. Of course, the squeaky wheel may infect another area, once they are comfortable with their new surroundings. But the immediate benefit of diminished stress is evident.

Safety and less stress – those are two important benefits of a workplace with less division in the ranks. What other benefits do we reap?

Tracy Barnhart:
For correctional workers everywhere, the current troubled economy may feel like an emotional roller coaster. "Layoffs" and "budget cuts" “Facility Closures” have become bywords in the career, and the result is increased fear, uncertainty, and higher levels of stress. Since job and workplace stress grow in times of economic crisis, it’s important to learn new and better ways of coping with the pressure. The ability to manage stress in our workplace can make the difference between success and failure. Your emotions are contagious, and stress has an impact on the quality of your interactions with others. The better you are at managing your own stress, the more you'll positively affect those around you and the less other people's stress will negatively affect you.

When people feel overwhelmed, they lose confidence and become irritable or withdrawn, making them less productive and effective and their work less rewarding. If the warning signs of work stress go unattended, they can lead to bigger problems. Beyond interfering with job performance and satisfaction, chronic or intense stress can also lead to physical and emotional health problems.

Joe Bouchard:
“Your emotions are contagious.” Well said, Tracy. Some of the spin off effects of less stress is a lower staff turnover. Let’s face it. Some agencies have an unbelievably high turnover. I believe that is exacerbated by an unpleasant work place. When staff division is lowered, the stress is lowered. Therefore, some hard to recruit and retain personnel will not leave the profession so easily.

This leads to an added benefit. Expensive initial training is not squandered on staff that would otherwise not stay for a long enough time to realize professional growth.

Higher safety, lower stress and monetary gains are valuable benefits. I know that there is also altruism to consider. But our pragmatic profession responds to tangible rewards for our efforts in maintaining staff harmony.

Tracy Barnhart:
Joe, I have harped on training and better hiring practices ever since I took on this hobby and it still makes me disgruntled every year. Each day all across America and beyond Correctional agencies submit publically that they have a hiring standard and they weed out the individuals who would not make it in the career. This, we all know, is preverbal crap. Unless you as an applicant have dead bodies buried under your house you are going to get hired. You might even get hired if you have a stock pile of dead bodies and lie about it during the initial interview. With the high turnover rate in corrections, some at over 100%, our human resources work very hard to fill open slots to no avail. Just look at the mandatory overtime that is available and sometimes forced due to staff shortages. They are into the hiring mode that if you can breathe and count to 100 you got the job. They allow for the probationary period to weed out individuals who are a determent or a bad employee. Basically a bad employee can wreak havoc for a long time before they are terminated.

Gang members have known this for years and if you don’t think there are officers who are members of street and institutional gangs I have some beach front land in Arizona that I need to sell. Joe, everyone needs a job. But not everyone needs this job. I have advocated for the selective hiring as our law enforcement counterparts but that would also include pay and benefit increases. You would have to change the perception and image of corrections before this could occur.

Staff division is like a chronic health condition. Once that condition is eased, the body feels better and can reach its full potential. And on the road to safety, we must consider how the body of corrections professionals can be the best it can be. The benefits for the whole outweigh the gains by the few who stoke the fires of disharmony.

Other "Road to Safety" articles by Bouchard and Barnhart:

Visit the Joe Bouchard or the Tracy Barnhart page


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