I am blessed with a wonderful family and terrific friends. A few of them hold positions as a postman, a police officer, an engineer, a teacher and an investment banker. My friends and I share a wealth of interests and we get together often, but one thing they don’t fully understand is that working in the pupil transportation industry is a 24-hour-a-day, 12-months-a-year commitment.
I hear their jokes about having the summer off and I remind them that my school district has numerous summer bus routes. I hear their comments about how I will be able to stay up late during winter break because school is out. My friends don’t realize that during that “leisurely” winter break, we have 15 athletic trips scheduled (the dates and times for which we do not yet know), and if the teams consistently win their games, we will need to schedule additional buses to transport them. If, on the other hand, the teams do not win their games, the trips will be cancelled entirely.
No, my friends, some of whom leave for work at 9:00 a.m. and who, on Friday at 5:00 p.m., can walk out the door and not think about work until Monday morning, have no idea how much time and dedication transportation managers, supervisors and directors must invest in their jobs.
Let’s face it — we get tired
Most of us rise well before 6:00 a.m., and supervisors who do not have any clerical support often remain in the office long after 5:00 p.m. to complete paperwork. They may also have to attend a board meeting after leaving the office.
Some of us drive or repair buses during the day while also attending to a steady stream of drivers who come into our office looking for advice, to ask questions or to give us a piece of their mind. Add to that answering parent calls that are rarely pleasant and accommodating our fellow building administrators, many of whom believe their needs are the most important in the district, and our patience can easily be worn thin. Everyone can have a bad day. However, as managers we must be cognizant of times when fatigue and stressful situations cause us to make errors and, in turn, cause our co-workers to look at us, scratch their heads and wonder.
The following outlines eight common mistakes we can make when we are overwhelmed, as well as how to avoid them.
1. Set a good example
When people become fatigued or burned out, one of the first things they do is abandon basic good habits. Arrive at the office on time, no matter how tired or stressed you are. We expect punctuality from our drivers and the rest of our staff, so we must adhere to that expectation ourselves, at all times.
By extension, avoid using sick days as a way to cope with stress. Whenever I speak at conferences, I get a laugh from the audience when I jokingly advocate using sick days when we are “sick” of coming to work. I’m not saying you shouldn’t take time off if you are ill or if you occasionally need a day to regroup; I’m saying avoid constantly using sick days as an excuse to get away from the office.
Before resorting to this pattern, make an effort to take at least 30 minutes a day for yourself to read, exercise, listen to music or to go on a short walk after work. Also, get to bed early. You will be amazed at how good you will start to feel when you make time to unwind and get some much needed sleep.
2. Don’t resort to abrupt answers
When we are tired and short on patience, we lose some of our ability to communicate effectively. Comments like “Because I said so!” do not truly communicate your feelings and can frustrate and anger your co-workers. You must make every effort to continue to convey the reasons for your actions, decisions and policy changes.
3. Avoid micromanaging
A school district’s transportation department is a unique operation. You may have 20, 50 or even 400 drivers, bus monitors and mechanics who come to work every day and, for the most part, do their jobs to the best of their ability.
Unless your operation dictates that you must drive or repair buses, and unless you are responding to a complaint or conducting a safety review or evaluation, don’t hover over your staff and micromanage them. Count on them to do the jobs that they do well everyday and take some time to complete that special project you have been putting off, such as updating your training program or reviewing your parts room inventory system.
4. Avoid seeking the limelight
During times of stress or fatigue, many people yearn for some type of positive recognition. Of course, if you have done a job well you are entitled to positive reinforcement; however, do not tread on others’ efforts because you want to take credit for something.
Successfully transporting children is a team effort. Celebrate the successes of your department as a whole. Acknowledge all of the efforts that your staff members make on a day-to-day basis. This will have a positive effect on how people view you.
5. Don’t “bunker in”
I will be the first to say that some employees today take the office “open door” policy too far. These days, there is a great deal of confidential information that flies around a busy transportation department and your office cannot and should not be a gathering place for drivers or bus monitors.
However, do not use your office as a bunker. As department heads, we must remain accessible to our staff; we also need to listen to their concerns and we owe it to them to provide timely answers to their questions. You can expect people to ask for an appointment or inquire what is a good time to see you — do not make this process difficult for them because you are feeling overwhelmed.
6. Avoid public disciplinary actions
When we are tired, we react differently to situations that normally would not bother us. For instance, if you have told your drivers not to park in a certain area a number of times and you arrive at work and see buses parked in that area, avoid chastising those employees in the drivers’ room where others will hear you. Speak to the people individually in an area where they will not feel embarrassed or belittled simply because their lack of compliance has rubbed you the wrong way.
7. Don’t hold grudges
The old saying goes “to err is human.” As managers and supervisors, we will make mistakes. Of course, when we make a mistake, chances are our bosses — the assistant superintendents and superintendents of our school districts — will have to get involved. We hope that they will allow us to move forward and not be dogged by the mistake for days or weeks to come. We should pass that courtesy on to our subordinate staff.
If your staff members make an error, they must be held accountable for it; however, once they have received the appropriate disciplinary action, you should foster an environment that enables them to move forward. Greet them politely — they should be treated with the same kindness, consideration and respect that they received prior to making the mistake.
Lastly, do not discuss disciplinary actions taken against an employee (or employees) with other staff members. Confidentiality must be maintained and we should never fuel the gossip mill.
8. Don’t lose your sense of humor
School transportation is a serious business, but there are moments when humor is appropriate. Do not lose your ability to laugh at a good, clean joke, and yourself if you feel you have done something that merits a chuckle.
If there’s not much in your work environment that makes you smile, start by purchasing one of the 365-day tear-off calendars available at most book stores. They have numerous themes. Take a minute each day to read those calendar pages. A smile will, most likely, appear on your face, and that’s a good start.
It is my hope that you will take these suggestions to heart, get a good night’s sleep tonight and when the alarm clock goes off between 4:30 and 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, you will be off to the garage or terminal renewed, energized and full of hope.
I welcome your comments and thoughts. Please send them to [email protected].