Workplace stress on the front (desk) lines

5/1/2017  By Thirty Percenters

May 1, 2017 

There's a study out there to prove pretty much everything - and its reverse. Case in point: on-the-job stress can lead to high blood pressure. Some experts would agree, but not all. Here's what is undisputed: blood pressure does elevate during times of stress, and often our coping mechanisms - such as excess eating and drinking - can cause persistent high blood pressure. So we're tackling stress management in this week's workplace post with a hat-tip to May as National High Blood Pressure Month.  

No surprise - good teamwork is a major factor in dealing with workplace stress. Photo credit: rivigan

When done well, front desk reception is a glorious thing to behold. The efficient yet welcoming management of customers, an essential first touch that can leave a lasting impression - it really is a big deal. And with no real control over the number and timing of visitors and callers, it's no wonder reception work often makes the short list for 'most stressful office jobs' in America.

Now throw healthcare into the mix. It's a recipe for extreme stress.

Lead Registration Clerk Yvette Hake is a familiar face at KVH. With over 30 years at the hospital front desk, she's had more than her share of stressful days at work. How does she do it?

"I realize not everyone's like me, but I love the pace. I love the challenge," smiles Hake, who manages the registration team at KVH Hospital. Hake admits that the job requires a high level of patience and empathy, and recognizes that the people she helps don't usually want to be there. "We rely on each other, to work together as a team." Fellow teammate Juan Svendsen came on board in 2017 after finishing studies at Perry Technical Institute. "It's a great environment," he says. "We affirm and encourage each other all the time. It makes a big difference in how we handle stress."

"I want patients to feel they have my attention."
-Yvette Hake

For Hake, it's all about perspective. "The people who are really under stress are the patients themselves," she says. "We try to never forget that." And while most patients follow societal norms such as waiting their turn, Hake recalls a different situation from several years ago, when one patient's stress spilled over and affected them all.

"It was early morning, so I was working alone at the front desk when I hear, ‘I need to be at work in 10 minutes. I need lab work, now!,'" says Hake. It was a busy day, with 4 other patients already waiting to be helped, so she replied, "I'll be right with you," which was met with, "I NEED HELP, NOW!" Hake's response was gentle but firm. She got up from the desk where she was helping another patient, and said to the woman, "If you would quit interrupting me, I could get my work done here and help you more quickly." Then Hake turned to the waiting group of patients and asked, "Does anyone mind if I help her next?"

No one minded. Blood pressure levels returned to normal.

The above story is striking to anyone who has checked in at the hospital, where registration staff pride themselves in giving the patient in front of them their complete focus. "I want patients to feel they have my attention," says Hake. "I can only help one person at a time." What may not be as obvious is staff's awareness of their surroundings. "Employees, visitors, patients, vendors - everyone is acknowledged, and everything is noticed," she confirms. "It's a key part of our work, being aware and alert to what's going on all around us."

Yes, they greet people and answer the phones, but it’s not so much reception work as it is team service with a smile, a keen eye, and an empathetic heart. For Hake and Svendsen and the rest of the hospital registration team, it’s the mix of skills and duties that makes their work interesting. And about that stress? "Just so you know," Svendsen grins, "my blood pressure is 128/73. It's gonna be fine."

Managed by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, Thirty Percenters does not provide medical advice. For medical advice, please see your healthcare professional.