County News Home Page
September 17, 2007
NACo Home Page
NACO Home Current Issue Back Issues Editorial & Advertising
County News


Getting Alarmed

I dictated this article from the lobby of a very large and very beautiful hotel in Orlando, Fla. The hotel is the site of the 71st annual conference of the Florida Public Personnel Association. HR leaders from cities, counties, sheriff’s offices, special districts and governmental agencies throughout the state come together to learn and network.

Just a few moments ago, the hotel’s fire alarm system sounded. It went on for an hour. It was accompanied by public address announcements: “An emergency has been detected. Please leave the building by the shortest available route. Do not use the elevators.”

This message kept repeating and it was not possible to be anywhere in the hotel without hearing the message. I first heard it, of course, just after I stepped into an elevator. I heard it in one of the crowded hotel restaurants during lunch. 

No one in the restaurant could escape hearing the alarms, but no one took any action to escape what might have been a real emergency. Within 20 minutes, the managers of the restaurants and the hotel staff wandered around stopping everyone they saw and advising them that this was a test of the alarm system and that there was no “real emergency.”

Two days earlier, a sign had been posted at the front desk saying there would be a test of the alarm system. The bad news was that the sign indicated that the test was going to take place on a different day than today.

In fact, there was a real emergency. It existed in the indifference people displayed throughout the hotel. The guests, the staff in the restaurants, the parking attendants, the gift shop people and the maintenance workers — no one appeared to react to the alarms going off all around them with anything other than annoyance and indifference.

The real emergency was that when signs of alarm appear in our lives, we often walk by them or sit by while the causes of the alarm and the underlying risks represented by alarm bells going off remain unchecked.

We wait for some validation from someone who appears to be in authority to tell us that it was all a drill, or conversely, to order us out of the hotel because there really is a fire. 

Each of us individually has a duty to ourselves and to others to respond to alarms in our lives with proactive responses rather than indifference. For an HR professional to sit with his colleagues in lecture halls during a conference hearing the alarm bells but not responding is particularly distressing. How many of us as employees, as members of the community and certainly as parents or spouses hear messages of alarm but remain indifferent? How many of us, to use the persistent theme in the HR Doctor’s training and life philosophy, just walk by a problem or don’t respond when we know or sense that something is not quite right? 

The result of this indifference in the wider society can be found everywhere. It can be found in perhaps 50 million people who do not have or cannot afford health insurance. It can be found in a substantial gap between the number of students who enter high school and the number who graduate. It can be found in the neglect of huge numbers of senior citizens whose lives combine economic deprivation with lack of health care access and loneliness — all of which result in a huge waste of potential.

It also can be found in homeland security. The U.S., despite the “war on terror” and the horrors of Sept. 11, has returned to a complacent mindset. The package left unattended in a more security-conscious society, such as Israel or London, would not go unnoticed as it appears to do in much of the United States.

There goes the alarm again at the hotel, this time more ear-piercing than ever, yet no one is responding with anything other than a business-as-usual approach. What does it take to change this complacent behavior at work? How many cases of workplace bullying or violence, sexual harassment or other workplace wrongs does it take to shake up and wake up an organization to the many liabilities and waste that result when no one responds to the alarms. 

A key part of the proper response in organizations demands urgent and sustained managerial training, policy improvement, and prompt and effective intervention when an alarm goes off.

The alarms are all around us as we see behavior that is not right, hear an employee complain but ignore it and act as though we are too busy, too important or too self-important to stop, interrupt whatever the problem is and take some corrective action.

How about a personal commitment from every reader of the HR Doctor to be aware and responsive when alarms about our personal health, about our relationships with family and friends or about our work responsibilities sound off in a loud and sustained manner?

The same sentiment applies to the alarms which may go off when we visit a doctor’s office and hear that we’re overweight or our blood sugar level is at an alarming level. 

A majority of Americans say they are planning actively for their retirement but the average savings for retirement by Americans is $25,000. That very, very small amount will produce a disastrous retirement lifestyle. That certainly is the type of alarm that everyone needs to pay attention to.  The examples are many, but the responses from the large majority of us reflect the same complacency that I just witnessed in this beautiful hotel.

Be alarmed!  Act to resolve the urgent situations in your personal life and your work life.

Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


Job Market / Classifieds

Financial Services News

The H.R. Doctor Is In

What's In a Seal?

News from the Nation's Counties

NACo On the Move

Research News

Profiles In Service

In Case You Missed It ...

Tools for Tough Times
Write to Your Editor
Print This Page

Bookmark and Share
NACo Home  |  Current Issue  |  Back Issues  |  Editorial & Advertising
© Copyright 1996-2002 County News