A Day on the Front Lines

When was the last time you spent an hour at your office’s “front desk”?

Over the summer, I hopped behind the front desk of one of our residence halls for an hour while our friends in housing were having a full staff meeting with their housing assistants. I was enticed to the post with the often-offered, but admittedly rarely true phrase, “All you’ll have to do is sit.” Predictably, several students who seemingly had been waiting all day for an ill-informed desk attendant to arrive approached in rapid succession, asking all sorts of questions for which I had no answers. My cluelessness in the role was uncomfortable- one of my least favorite things is to go into a task ill-prepared- but it was also understandable, given the circumstances of my brief appointment.

I was reminded of this overwhelming but eye-opening hour earlier this week, when I worked with the City of Clearwater on their Turkey Trot registration and pickup. As a member of the intern class of 2007 (WHOA), I always really enjoy my drive west to visit my friends I used to work with, while helping out with one of the biggest productions of the year and making a little money while I’m home.

Afterward, I felt compelled to post this moment of snark, one of many thoughts I had but the only I could eloquently put into Tweet form:

Other quirks of the registration table post that I always forget until this time of year include “The Commoner” (who gives you a common last name such as Johnson, Jones, or Kelly and then waits as you are expected to either feel their aura for their first name, or just start guessing), “The Sigher” (who stands in a line as you flip through 50+ pages of names, sighing as though that will make the process go faster), “The Mime” (who wordlessly hands you a confirmation printout sans salutation), and so many others.

After a successful will call retrieval, free of conflict or undue rudeness.

We are a group of veterans who, with little exception each year, know how to handle the sticky situations we get in. And I think we do a good job of preparing those who are new for what they might see and how to handle it. But it  is a great and humbling refresher for me each year, a reminder of what our administrative assistants and front-line student employees go through every year. These posts have moments, days, even weeks of high stress- the further we move away from those positions, the easier it is to forget. I challenge you to check in with those that serve in these roles often, finding ways to support them. Or, one step further…I challenge you to step behind the desk and live it, even if only for a few hours.

How do you support your front line staff when things get stressful? Any advice for those new to the post?

One thought on “A Day on the Front Lines

  1. Great post Amma, and great reminder. Although tedious in regards to the registration tables, if I can try and have a little fun and get a laugh, that helps me get through the hours and hopefully diffuses any annoyed line-waiters. In regards to our front-line staff… they know much more than me. Our front desk staff member has been a huge help, and I try to let her know that. I also try to do small things, like if I make a coffee run, I always make sure to ask if she wants anything and pick it up for her with my cash – its the least I can do for the amount of crud she deflects away from my office.

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