Employee stress and customer service are like oil and water--the two don't mix. A stressed-out employee in any industry is likely to be irritable or downright unpleasant to your customers. Even paramedics, who are trained to handle stress in emergency situations, are vulnerable, says Tommy Duhon, senior vice-president of human resources at Acadian Ambulance and Air Med Services, in Lafayette, La. What's more, for the average paramedic, day-to-day stressors may seem small, but they can accumulate and have serious physical, psychological, and behavioral consequences if the paramedics are not equipped with appropriate coping skills.

Acadian's solution is "Crackerjack," a day-long program developed in tandem with SSA Consultants. Employees learn to reduce work-related stress by controlling manageable situations, changing their perceptions, and accepting circumstances beyond their control. They start by examining job expectations and compare them to workplace realities to determine where conflicts exist.

The 600 employees trained so far appear to be better able to identify and cope with stress. They learn that it's okay to let others know when they have a problem. Most important, they become aware that their work is a stressor--that they need to leave it behind when they go home, to improve the quality of their family life and free time. "Paramedics with a handle on stress function crisply on the job," says Duhon. "This frees them to focus on the service they provide to customers."

Copyright 1997 G+J USA Publishing