Dignity in the Workplace: It’s a Leadership “Thing”

Dignity in the workplace 2By:  Robert Avsec

Just the other day I was cleaning up some old files and folders on my computer and came across what follows below.  I originally composed the message circa 2005 when I was a Battalion Chief with Chesterfield Fire & EMS Department and assigned to the Emergency Operations Division.

I shared this message with the Company Officers (first-line supervisors in the fire stations of our battalion) as a one of the e-mails that I sent out at the beginning of each tour of duty so that they would get it first thing into their workday.  (Battalion staff came on duty at 0700 hours and personnel in the fire stations came on at 0800 hours, so I had a “bit of jump” each tour).

Firefighters at work 3I thought it worthy of sharing in this venue given the ongoing workplace harassment issues in the fire service for men and women of color, and particularly women.  From reading accounts, both on and off line, it is evident that too many fire officers still don’t “get it” when it comes to dignity in the workplace.  I believe that is one of the fundamental factors in this ongoing blight on the profession that many of us hold near and dear to our hearts: we still have too many officers who don’t manage their fire station like a workplace in 2013.

So here’s what I wrote at that earlier time:ebookstore.sony.com

Recently, I completed reading a really good book, Generally Speaking by Lt. General Claudia Kennedy (Ret.), which turned out to be a really good book on leadership (in addition to being a great read).  I would highly recommend it to all of you.

One of the chapters deals with her Army experiences that influenced her attitudes about fairness and equality.  In the chapter she discusses the Army’s reaction to the sexual harassment scandals at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland where NCO [Non-Commissioned Officer] drill sergeants were charged with various offenses to female trainees ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault and rape.

As part of the Army’s investigation General Kennedy was appointed as a member of the Secretary of the Army’s Senior Review Panel on Sexual Harassment.  That panel used surveys, focus groups, personal interviews and observations that involved 30,000 soldiers world-wide.  Specific data analysis involved a cohort of 15,000 men and women soldiers across all branches of the Army.

I won’t attempt to summarize her writings, or the work of the panel, in this short e-mail, but the biggest issue that I got out of this chapter was that they found that the Army had a significant issue in a lack of respect and dignity that created an environment where sexual harassment was tolerated and in some cases condoned.  She wrote:

Not surprisingly, the Review Panel found that Army leaders were the critical factor in creating, maintaining, and enforcing an environment of respect and dignity.  But too many leaders had failed to gain the trust of their soldiers.

The good news was that the panel also found many examples of good leadership in many units around the world, even in deployments like Kuwait and Bosnia, where the leaders created high levels of respect and dignity in the harshest and most challenging work environments.  The panel identified four characteristics of these types of units:

  • Good leaders set standards for the members of their organization.
  • Good leaders exemplified through their personal conduct adherence to those standards.
  • Good leaders enforced and maintained those standards for the other members of the organization.
  • Good leaders demonstrated genuine care and concern for their soldiers, no matter their rank, race, or gender.

Firefighters at work 2I think there’s good stuff here that can serve us as well.  I believe that these same characteristics are what we need to strive for to create an environment that not only prevents sexual harassment from entering our work place, but also creates an environment for success.  The Army units that were led by leaders with these characteristics were also high performing, operationally proficient units.  Providing respect and dignity in the workplace will do that for you.

Have a safe shift and make a difference in somebody’s life today!

Chief Avsec


Do the leaders in your organization promote a strong sense of dignity in the workplace?  Send examples to me because I’d love to hear about what others are doing right.

About Robert Avsec, Executive Fire Officer

Battalion Chief (Ret.) Robert Avsec served with the men and women of the Chesterfield County (VA) Fire and EMS Department for 26 years. He’s now using his acquired knowledge, skills, and experiences as a freelance writer for FireRescue1.com and as the “blogger in chief” for this blog. Chief Avsec makes his home in Cross Lanes, WV. Contact him via e-mail, [email protected].