In an emergency the real danger doesn’t always come from the fire that threatens the house but instead from tiredness.
Tiredness leads to stress and that leads to the poor decision-making that led to the whole town burning down.
Four months into COVID-19 the first burst of adrenaline is long gone replaced by the slog of long days.
A quick straw poll in the Public Sector Comms Headspace Facebook group showed 71 per cent of public sector communicators acknowledging a poor work versus life balance as opposed to 25 per cent having it sorted. That’s a big number of people making stressed decisions.
In many comms teams, tackling COVID-19 has been replaced by tackling COVID-19 plus everyday and very soon things are starting to give.
It was a pleasure to welcome Jim Whittington as a guest speaker in the Headspace Zoom session. Jim has worked in fire comms in the North West of the United States and is now a consultant.
His area of specialism is known as wildland fire. In short, thats dealing with huge areas of land on fire. His largest incident was helping tackle a blaze three times the size of London.
The good thing about wildland fire is that they’ve hard won experience of staffing long running incidents.
When the Twin Towers collapsed it was wildland fire experts who went to New York to train the city’s fire department on how to pace themselves in their response in the months that followed.
While the heart says run at the incident, wildland fire thinking knows the need to think, plan and be calm.
Here are some pointers from Jim’s session.
1. For every two hours worked take an hour off. You can work 14 days like this then you need a day off. Then you can work another seven. Then you need two off.
2. Those in charge of the team need to stop and plan even if people are shouting because if you don’t you’ll just react and things will get worse.
3. Planning helps manage stress.
4. If you manage stress you make better decisions and are less likely to burn out.
5. You have to take breaks and be honest with yourself when you need those breaks.
6. If you now think you need help you’re probably too late just as if you’re thirsty you’ve been too slow to grab water.
7. When youre planning build in slack so people can have that unexpected day off they didn’t know they were going to need.
8. When you’re planning you need those around you to be totally honest and share the information to help you build the picture.
9. Pay attention to the elected members and media as they’re going to be stressed too. Help them manage their stress.
10. When you’re talking to senior people make a conscious effort to talk slower and deeper. Quieter, too. It’ll generate a response thats likely to be more calm and more relaxed.
11. When you’re talking to senior people, be clear at the start that everyone is on the same side and wants the best for everyone.
12. When you’re having awkward conversations with senior people, don’t make it about their glaring flaws but instead how we can do things better.
13. When youre having awkward conversations with senior people involve them with the decision making, too. So, explain calmly that you can do X but not X and Y. So, help me out. Should we do X or Y?
14. When you’re talking with senior people about the X you can do manage expectations.
15. When you’re talking to the reporter educate them in how tricky the decision making is rather than give simple soundbites. People aren’t stupid. Experience says they’ll see through you and they’ll know matters are more complicated than they seem.
16. Ambiguity is what you’ll have to work with. Things are uncertain. That’s your truth.
17. Faced with misinformation stay true to yourself. Even when some of that misinformation may come from a source in another part of the public sector.
18. When your working remotely, you may need to be more explicit than if they were in the room with you and you were reading their body language.
19. Be true to yourself.
20. Keep training your team.
You can follow Jim on Twitter @jimwhittington and read his blog here.