Why the Person Sitting at Your Front Desk May Be So Miserable

We all have pet peeves, things that annoy us, truly bother us. My biggest pet peeve is when I enter a medical office or a retail store or a professional office like the lawyer or accountant and the person at the front desk is impersonal, looks miserable, and it seems obvious to me that he or she has never learned how to honor the confidentiality of a patient, customer, or client.

I know that you know what I am talking about. You have experienced it too. You walk up the front desk and expect a smile and a trained professional. Instead, you get an unhappy, discourteous individual who looks like they truly cannot stand their job, that they are doing you a favor by taking care of you, and they have no regard for your privacy.

I am retired, and I am enjoying my retirement very much. However, after too long tolerating the bad behavior of folks at the front desk, sometimes complaining, and sometimes not, I decided about a month ago to become more proactive and I formed a small boutique HR consulting firm for the sole purpose of working with employees to make them better representatives of the companies and organizations for whom they work. This has become my new passion in my retirement.

I spent most of my career in the healthcare environment, teaching future hospital and practice administrators as a university professor while also observing healthcare evolve and working with medical offices as a consultant. I was also a business consultant with many diverse clients. And at the same time, just like you, I have been a customer, a patient, and a client of many different businesses my entire life.

So, why do I think the person sitting at your front desk may be so miserable? The first possibility is that they are unhappy with their job. I often wonder if employers today actually ask their employees how happy they are. The second possibility is that the employee has never ever really been trained in good customer service skills. Without those tools, the desk staff may be working at a great disadvantage. And the third possibility is that the employee is mismatched with the job he or she is doing and maybe the job description should be reviewed and maybe even be revised.

If one or more of these possibilities is true and contributing to a negative attitude toward the job, what are some of the tools employers can use to make things better? One tool is to do either one-on-one interviews with each employee or a focus group session with the employees to get feedback about how happy they are with the job and with the organization. It is essential for managers to truly care whether their employees are happy. It is downright foolish not to. Employees need to vent. It’s healthy. If they don’t vent, they harbor resentments and begin to talk behind the manager’s back, so it is better to give them the opportunity to say what’s on their mind. I have found that the most effective way to do this is to have someone outside of the organization do the interviews and/or to facilitate the focus groups. I have found that more honest and far more valuable feedback results from that approach. Employees are simply less inhibited.

Another tool is to conduct workshops for the entire staff teaching them how to be better ambassadors for your organization, wherever they work in your company or nonprofit. These training sessions should be specific to the kind of business or nonprofit you are, so the tools you are sharing are most relevant. Again, an outside trainer can be more effective than someone inside the organization for many reasons.

Still another tool is to review all job descriptions, making sure to talk to each job holder, and see if the job description still matches the actual responsibilities and expectations of the position. This gives validity to each employee and makes them feel that they are contributing to the process of making the company or nonprofit a better workplace. Sometimes the current job description needs to be updated, and with the update, sometimes good people need to be reassigned to different positions that are a better fit.

It is interesting that one or a combination of these three tools can make a huge difference in the attitude of not only the folks at the front desk, but everyone throughout your company or organization.

And so, that is why I formed my new little company. After a career of working with medical practices, libraries, retailers, nonprofit organizations, service companies, and many other types of businesses as a consultant, I have seen the success of using an outsider to work with employees. I believe that if given the opportunity, an outsider can find out what is really going on, and then re-motivate dissatisfied employees to change their mindset and become team-oriented. A good interactive session conducted by a skilled facilitator can almost always end with smiles on faces and sending people back to work with a new more positive work ethic. Most importantly, a good outside facilitator can instill into each employee a sense of contribution since their feedback is used to make the company/organization stronger.

The team at The Pennington HR Group has over a decade of proven experience in facilitating dialogues between managers and their employees. We work with managers to help them better understand how their employees are feeling, and how the manager can be more effective in showing appreciation to all of the employees and giving them the validation that is so important to each of them.


© 2019 by The Pennington HR Institute

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