I recently had the humbling experience of being given a long service award. This was in relation to me completing ten years in a voluntary role as a Community First Responder.
Community First Responders are volunteers with the Ambulance service who attend 999 medical emergencies in their local communities. The idea is that we can often get to patients, and start giving medical attention, before the Ambulance service arrives.
On one hand I was really grateful to be recognised for my service. On the other hand I had difficulty receiving my award from the Chief Executive, who had only been in post for a little over a year and was about to leave for a new job.
As I looked round the room I came to the realisation that all the people at the top of the organisation were relatively new in post. The majority of people receiving long service awards were all frontline staff. Some of these staff I too had had the privilege of working with over the years. Some I could remember from my first year responding.
When I first started volunteering the Ambulance trust had a relatively stable management structure. I got to know those in senior roles – meeting them at training sessions and out on jobs. As a volunteer I felt included and that I was really making a difference.
Over the last seven years I have lost count of the number of manager we have had. The average length in post for them is 6 months. Very few of them have had experience of dealing with volunteers. It feels that some see it as tick box exercise to add value to their CV. For some it is an internal HR issue as they are seconded into the role and them moved on elsewhere – even when they want to stay in post.
This lack of stability has led to a real disconnect between the volunteers and the organisation. We know changes need to be made on the way our role is delivered and to our knowledge base and training. However the way this is being rolled out feels as though it is assuming we have nothing else to do and have all the time in the world to attend training sessions. The understanding of how volunteers work is severely lacking.
So receiving a long service award, from someone who had been with the organisation for such a short time, and was about to leave, just felt really strange, as well as really good.
But then this is a reflection of the world we work in now where long careers with the same organsiation is becoming a thing of the past. Long Service Awards may also become obsolete one day, so I am thankful to get one.