Hate Long-Winded Incident Reports

Hate Long-Winded Incident Reports

Hey Dan! I hate writing out long-winded incident reports but my boss insists on them.

Is there any way I can make this easier to do?

You’ve finally come to the end of your eight, ten or twelve hour day, and all that stands between you and the sweet freedom of time off is a silly end-of-day incident report.

You log into the company system, try to fill in all the boxes, and just as you’re about to hit SEND, the entire system shuts down and you have to do it all over again.

On a good day you only have to enter your report twice, and that’s only if you’re really lucky.

Sadly, this is a scenario that plays itself out in security offices all over the country.

Necessary Evil

Companies demand records of every shift, with as much detail as possible, so if something happened they know who to ask.

While process makes a lot of sense to the company, it’s burdensome to the people on the ground.

I was happy when I finally signed on with a large security company. The job was a cakewalk for the most part. All I had to do was make sure kids didn’t try to play baseball on the back lot on the weekends, while checking for signs of vandalism along the many walls and fences.

However, the new job proved to be a nightmare once the newness of outdoor work finally wore off.

At the end of every shift I spent at least an hour on our outdated computer, desperately trying to enter my reports. The computer ran some version of Windows so old I didn’t even recognize it. Every time I opened a program I had enough time to get up and make a cup of coffee before it would actually start.

God forbid someone accidentally turned the machine off; in that case I might as well take a nap in the office while I waited for the stupid thing to boot.

Complaining about the computer was a running joke with the other guards. Once a week we’d all show up an hour early so the person coming off shift could get a head start on their reports and have a small chance of leaving on time.

We griped about the unpaid time spent on a seemingly senseless task, threatening at one point to walk out as a group if things didn’t change.

Not Following Procedure

Then one day Sam decided it was too much. When his shift was over, he packed up his belongings, went home and thought nothing of it. No one said anything about one missing report, and eventually others started leaving theirs incomplete or unfinished.

We were happier, and our boss was happier, now that we weren’t complaining to him every day about the reports, but there was trouble brewing.

About a month after Sam’s rebellion our boss called us into the office for a mandatory meeting. The week before there’d been an incident involving a guard and a teenaged kid that’d been caught tagging one of the brick walls of the building. The guard chased the kid off, but while the kid was running he fell over a speed bump and injured his shoulder.

The kid’s parents decided to sue the facility, and the lawyers asked for a copy of the incident report from that night. Chris, the guy on duty, failed to file one, so the facility was staring down a considerable lawsuit.

We all knew Chris would be fired for what happened, but we were shocked to find out that the entire team was going to be let go. The facility manager discovered multiple missing reports and determined that the security contractors, my company, weren’t fulfilling their contractual obligations, so the facility nullified the contract.

The loss of income from the site, and the potential liability claims made against my company led them to believe the team wasn’t worth moving to another site, and we were all fired, with cause. And you and I both know what happens to your benefits when you are "fired with cause."

It took quite some time for a lot of my former co-workers to find another job after that, because everyone in small security community in the area where I lived knew who we were and why we were fired. Other companies that wanted to hire us couldn’t, because they were all bidding on the job we screwed up.

Endless Complaints & Paper Trails

Like it or not, reports are a necessary evil, but that doesn’t mean you have to be content with your current system.

Your boss or your boss’s boss needs a paper trail to cover their butt, and if an incident occurs, you cover your own as well. The trick to finding peace with your reports is developing a system that works for everyone involved.

The trick here is to understand that your boss probably hears complaints about the system all the time, and if the only thing that you have to add to the conversation is that you hate it too, your boss is not going to listen to what you have to say. As with any conversation you have with your boss or supervisor, there’s a protocol that will help you get the results you want.

Before you talk to your boss about a problem, make sure you schedule a time to speak with him. This allows him to set aside some time to talk with you, so you don’t get rushed through your discussion.

Make A List

Once you’ve set the meeting, but before you arrive, write out a list of points you want to make. Your list needs to be concise and focus on only one problem at a time.

I went in to talk to an old boss one time about employee parking, and drifted over into talking about uniforms in the same meeting. He became fixated on the secondary issue of the uniforms, which I wasn’t really prepared to talk about, and nothing got done on either issue.

A concise discussion keeps the topic focused and lets you and your boss hone in on finding a real solution to your problem.

Be Concise

Be prepared for a real discussion on the issue of reports. Ask your boss questions about what he and the company need or expect from your paperwork, so you have an understanding of the things the company values in your report.

It’s important that you are genuinely interested in why your boss wants you to use the current system, so when you make your proposal, you can address potential concerns your boss has about the changes.

Find Viable Solutions, Not Unfixable Problems

Finally, propose a viable solution. You can’t go in to your meeting and tell your boss the only way to get incident reports filed on time is to equip every guard with a personal iPad so they can file reports from anywhere on the site.

That sort of solution is cost prohibitive, and very few companies would ever consider that kind of expense when they already have another system in place.

You have to think about the problem from the company’s perspective and offer a solution that costs little to nothing to implement, otherwise you’re probably wasting your breath.

It's A Sales Job

In my case I was able to convince a company to change its policies regarding incident reports, but it was still a tough sell.

Through some friends of mine I was able to get another job in just a couple of weeks with roughly the same pay and benefits. My first day on the job I discovered they were using a similar system and set up to the one I’d used before.

I’ll admit, part of me cried a little when I saw the piece of junk they had in the office.

When I went home that night I complained to my wife about useless reports, and I could tell I was getting on her last nerve. She’s normally a great listener, but after a few minutes of griping from me I knew she wasn’t very interested in what I had to say. I was frustrated at her lack of sympathy so I decided to stop talking and stew in silence.

She reached across the table, grabbed my hand and said the words I’d never said to myself.

“If you hate the system so much, why don’t you do something about it?”

As a guard I didn’t really see myself as an idea man, at least not when it came to work. My job was just to keep the people and property safe, follow orders and go home. That line of thinking got me unscathed through my Army days, why wouldn't it get me through my day job? Supervisors were the ones who got paid to think.

It started to dawn on me that my attitude was part of the problem. I was the one on the ground, doing the work, so I was the person with the best perspective from which to propose new ideas.

My wife continued to speak and reminded me of some innovative solutions I’d come up with for problems around the house. What I mistook as disinterest on her face was really sadness because I wasn’t confident enough to think outside the box and propose a change.

My Wife Inspires Me

That night we sat around our kitchen table and brainstormed a series of ways to revise the reporting system. I went to work the next day inspired. I spoke briefly to the boss and told him I’d like to talk with him during my lunch break. At the meeting, I laid out my plans and I could see he thought a lot of my ideas were good.

Now, it took several weeks for the changes to work their way into our routine, but it became readily apparent that the new system was an improvement over the old one, and most of the staff appreciated the changes.

If you want to take the hassle out of your daily reports here are a few simple solutions that I’ve used in the past. They may not work in your situation, and it’s a good idea to brainstorm possible solutions with your co-workers to find a viable alternative to your current reporting system that works within your current environment.

Change Takes Time, Effort And Willpower

I’d start with taking the reports out of the web interface and use a plain text editor or word processing program instead. There are few worse feelings than seeing your report disappear because the browser crashed or the system went down.

Server and network maintenance are a big problem if you’re trying to file a report between midnight and seven or eight in the morning, and writing the report itself in another program, copying the text and then pasting it into the company’s interface is by far your easiest solution.

The problem you have is that a lot companies fear employees using computers for personal tasks, so you may not have access to any programs other than the reporting or time clock applications. If this is the case, you’ve got to be more creative.

Old School Technology

One of the recommendations I make to every guard is to carry a small spiral notepad in your pocket and make short notes about things you see or hear when you’re on duty. This will simplify your reports, because you already have a list of the topics you need to talk about, before you sit down.

When you really think about it, most of the time you spend on your reports is not in the actual writing, it’s trying to remember the details from a long shift. As long as nothing significant happened, if you take notes and prepare the outline for your report before you sit down, you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’re finished.

The solution we used at my new job, in conjunction with writing our reports in a text program, was a ten minute overlap between shifts. We balanced the increased time on the clock by slightly extending lunch breaks so overtime wouldn’t be an issue.

The overlap gave everyone who prepared their reports ahead of time, using the notepads I provided, more than enough time to provide all of the details the company wanted to see in their incident reports. Your co-workers might complain about the extra hour a week they have to commit to in their overlap, but after a few weeks they’ll start to see that the scheduled time for writing reports saved them more than an hour a week overall.

As you start to think about your own situation, realize there are two seemingly obvious solutions that almost never work.

Don't Check The Checklist

Don’t propose that your company adopt a checklist rather than a narrative report. Employees tend to get lazy with their checklists, and rarely pay attention to what they’re checking off.

Your boss needs a narrative report, because he needs to know that you sat down and paid attention to your answers when filing the report.

Nobody Likes Group Projects

Another thing you want to avoid is proposing group reports, where every guard who was on duty during a given shift signs off on a single report.

Over time one person will be forced to file that shift’s report every day, and they’ll grow to resent the fact that everyone else slides by without contributing. In many instances companies wind up losing good guards because they feel overworked and under appreciated.

The other reason group reports don’t work is that they only offer a single perspective on the shift, and too many details are lost, rendering the reports pointless.

Paperwork is the most tedious part of the job, but it’s never going away. No one wants to write incident reports, no one wants to read them and no one wants to file them, but trust me, there will come a time when everyone’s glad you have them.

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