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Unfriendly atmosphere

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Question: We have an office of about 70 employees, about 55 of whom have face-to-face contact with the public. The owner would like all patients welcomed with friendly faces. Not all the employees are this friendly. They aren’t rude, but are very cold. They do their work correctly.

How do you make people smile without making them more unfriendly?  If they don't fit into the atmosphere we are trying to create, would that be crazy to let them go?  -- Anonymous


Friendly doesn't have to mean smile. Maybe just a pleasant acknowledgement would be ok. People want to know that they are important, and they want to be treated with respect. Some people just don't smile easily, so if you were able to encourage a friendly greeting, that would probably make a big difference. The smiles will come with time.

I am one of those people that it is hard to smile. When I was a teenager I got wrote up for not smiling all the time. Once a clown came up and he said he has to smile all the time. I told him I don't know these people so I don't smile. Of course, he states he doesn't know any of the people/kids that come up to him. I thought that is true but it didn't change me to smile but I still remember what he said.

At work I don't think I smile at new patients. I just do my work and ask them to complete the paperwork. Other patient's that come in all the time I smile at or wave or had a short conversation with them. So I do understand. I really would hate to be fired for not smiling when I do such a good job and I do smile sometimes. I do get comments form new patients for how nice I was on the phone getting their information and that is the first impression. I have never had a patient complain that I don't smile.

People need commendation for doing a good job once in a while, as well as motivation and encouragement. Donuts in the morning a couple of times a month might help. Monthly meetings addressing the importance of good customer service and the importance to keep a smile on your face and to remember that we all have problems and preocupations, but we teach others by our own actions and behavior.

Millie Moscoso

I would just conduct a short training session and let your staff know how important it is to the owner to provide a friendly, warm environment for the patients and that he expects everyone to do their part to help make the patients feel comfortable and more relaxed. This can be followed up with monthly or bi-weekly reminders until it becomes a new behavior, especially for those who have a hard time with this.

It sounds like the issue you are talking about is customer service. My company recently spent a huge amount of money on training the entire staff on customer cervice. While i don't necessarily recommend this approach, management in your office might want to look into workshops or books on improving customer service and present it back to the staff. They are also writing customer service into everyone's job description and evaluation. Theoretically, this could lead to someone getting fired if they were not making an effort to improve, but only after the propoer channels were taken as in every other employee performance issue.

Different people have different personalities - It's unfair to want to change someone to fit the atmosphere of an office, especially when that office hired them in full knowledge of their personality, in the first place - If the 'unfriendly' employees are doing their work, and doing it well and are not overtly rude, then I don't know why there is a problem.

I'm sure that your office could name some 'good will' ambassadors to meet and greet the guests and clients as they enter the office - this would alleviate the need for all employees to be on guard.
Outgoing 'smiley' people would like this task.

I have a bad jaw condition (TMJ) which makes it very painful to smile - I consider myself very friendly but am not a 'smiley' person - I think it's unfair to make assumptions about whether or not people are friendly or should be fired based on the sole fact that they do or do not smile.

FYI: If you let these people go on that criteria alone, that would set your company up for lawsuits - Especially if they had underlying medical conditions or mental issues.

I agree with Anne - I think that it's important to realize that people have different personality types. I certainly think it would be overreacting to actually fire people because they don't smile enough! It's hard enough to find and keep competent employees who "do their work correctly," as you mentioned, without penalizing them for not being outgoing, extroverted people.

Just a personal comment. . . I consider myself a friendly, outgoing person. Even so, I have had co-workers stop by my desk occasionally when I'm concentrating on a work project (often when I'm composing a document on the computer)and tell me to "SMILE!" I found it really irritating! I don't think it's realistic to be expected to keep a smile on my face 24/7, especially at the times when I'm not interacting with other people. I can only imagine how hard it would be for truly introverted people to be expected to be outgoing and friendly every minute of the workday. It's just not realistic.

Although it is more pleasant to deal with a smiling, friendly person, it is unrealistic to expect people to always smile while at work. As long as their attitude is good, and they are not rude, don't force the issue.

To me, when I go to a place of business that forces its employees to smile and greet every customer as they enter or leave, it is very annoying -- you know it is usually not genuine. Forcing someone to go outside their comfort zone is transparent and not the way to go.

I understand where your boss is coming from. I'm not the owner of a company, however I realize that it is important for an organization's success that the people working in it behave in accordance with the reputation that the organization wants to put out there to the public, and an owner's organization is often a reflection on him/her personally.

I'm not a "smiley" person either, but I make an effort to smile and be friendly when I come into contact with customers.... it's my duty as I do get paid by my employer to be their representative at work. That is what all employees really are, is representatives of the organization they work for - whether it is behind the scenes, or out front with the customers.

People don't necessary have to smile real big either, a person's friendliness can be perceived in attitude and the eyes.

I work in a small office where everybody has constant contact with customers by phone and in person. All of us do a good job and none of us are "smiley". All of us are polite, courteous and knowledgeable. If the boss wants his staff to be courteous and friendly, that's admirable, and perhaps there should be some training with role-playing. But unless being "smiley" is made part of the job description and part of the performance review, you can't fire people who don't smile. They will sue and you will lose. Another issue is that some members of the public may take the friendly smile as an invitation for activity that doesn't have anything to do with business-related customer service. This became a real issue a few years ago when Safeway wanted all its grocoery clerks and checkers to smile at the customers. Eventually, Safeway rescinded this policy because it caused so many problems.

We have a Customer Service policy here and being friendly and courteous is the main issue. Requiring people to smile is not always good because I have worked with two "girls" who flashed their pearly whites all the time, yet behind it they were ruthless and had terrible work habits. Do we want sincerity or fake kindness??

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