Certain Factors Can Affect Workplace Anger/Violence (part 1)

 As a Receptionist you will be the front of house. You will meet and greet patients throughout the day. Often you will come across patients (or their carers) that perhaps are annoyed, angry and on the rare occasion violent.

Dealing with such difficult situations can be daunting and somewhat frightening – especially for the new members of staff but there are things that can be taken into consideration by understanding


This can often occur when people experience long delays, lack of attention or simply just not getting what they want.


Some people resent those in a position of authority – and a Receptionist can often be seen as being in authority i.e. those given out the appointments, some people can see the Receptionist as being undermining or talking down to them. Often if people are negative they will see every situation as a negative one too. As a Receptionist it is your role to try to turn a negative into a positive.

Personal Reasons

We often do not know the personal circumstances in people’s lives. This could be

  • Illness
  • Pain
  • Fear
  • Insecurity
  • Mental Health issues
  • Bereavement
  • Addictions (substance and drug abuse)

Previous Anger/Violence Might Have Paid Off  

  • Think they will get an immediate response.
  • Lack of patience
  • Yelling works
  • Expectations

Lack of Communication

  • Patients not knowing what is happening
  • Not been given a full explanation
  • Being ignored (or thinking that they are)
  • Staff offhand and not helpful
  • Ignorance of the system


  • Noisy / untidy cramped rooms
  • Potential weapons to hand
  • Reception area non confidential
  • Bad Atmosphere

Lack of Training

  • Without proper staff training staff may not have the confidence or skills needed to keep the patients happy or the surgery running smoothly.

Poor Systems

  • No available appointments
  • Telephones not being answered
  • Wrong information given
  • Disorganised reception area
  • Notes / results missing or not available for appointment
  • Lack of trained staff.

How can the Risks be reduced?

  •  A safe working environment
  • Well designed working areas  
  • Effective Practice     
  • Good Communication between Management/Staff/Patients      
  • Proper Training  
  • Forward planning.

A Safe working Environment

It is important that the Reception desk is secure. Make sure that you take every step to prevent aggressors reaching over and grabbing items from the reception desk

  • Prescriptions (it has been known for prescriptions to be taken from a Reception area)
  • Patients notes
  • Money (often just been taken from a previous patient)
  • Letter opener (this could be used as a dangerous weapon

Wherever possible try to take the aggressive/upset patient away from the front desk. Take them away from the “audience” and away from other patients that might feel threatened by their behaviour.

Security Features / Physical Layout

Wherever possible have your waiting area in sight of the Reception Area then if there is an incident that occurs you are able to deal with it before it gets out of hand.

  • Panic button in Reception – directed to your local police station
  • Panic button in consulting rooms communicating with reception and/or local police station

All panic buttons should be checked on a regular basis i.e. weekly and logged that has been done so.

If you feel that a situation does not warrant pressing the panic button you could have a special ‘code word’. As a Practice you could agree on a certain word and use this in case of you needing backup in Reception. For example you could phone your Practice Manager or  duty Doctor and ask  “could you bring me the red file” this would alert them that you needed assistance.

Sometimes just having another person there – in the background can help in a situation and the angry person will quite often back down.

Well Designed Working Areas

This can be achieved by

  • Providing a comfortable area where staff can take a well-earned break.
  • Providing comfortable meeting areas.
  • Encouraging staff participation in keeping the workplace tidy.

Proper Training

This would allow staff to

  • Understand the causes of anger/violence in the workplace
  • Recognise the warning signs of an angry/violent situation
  • Help prevent anger/violence
  • Be less afraid and better able to solve difficult situations
  • Avoid taking certain situations personally.

A Plan For Action

This can provide details about:

  • Who is responsible for decisions at your surgery
  • What action needs to be taken in such a situation
  • When (and if necessary) to call the police.
  • What action is needed AFTER the situation has occurred – i.e completing out an incident form (see blog: The Incident Report Form http://wp.me/p1zPRQ-6o )

It is best to have a plan of action put in place to cover different situations. Talk things through at your team meetings.