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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Welfare Workers Will Offer Service, And Maybe A Smile Extra Training To Focus On Being Polite And Professional

Welfare recipients rarely hear a kind word but that’s about to change.

Complaints about inconsiderate treatment by welfare workers have prompted extra training on being professional and polite.

“It’s an ongoing process to personalize the faceless structure of the government,” said Bernie Nelson, regional Department of Social and Health Services administrator.

Most workers do a great job, Nelson said. But complaints about “a few bad apples” convinced him to require customer-service classes for all line workers in northeast Washington later this year.

Training classes for new workers will emphasize empathy and coaching skills, he said.

Complaints of rude employees are as old as government itself, but welfare offices have one of the worst reputations. Recipients say they’re frequently ignored or harassed.

“I tell (workers) these people are the reason for your job,” said Jim Lanham, a trainer for the DSHS.

“If this were a private business with a bottom line, you’d make sure they’d want to come back.”

Nelson said that mindset is especially needed now. Under welfare reform, workers have used new authority to slash benefits, triggering some angry confrontations.

Restructuring last year within DSHS also affected the politeness meter. People with number-crunching backgrounds - and no training in being polite - shifted into social worker roles to beef up the ranks.

The atmosphere can be volatile. Offices regularly get bomb threats, and workers are on alert for people coming unhinged.

Customer-service training is overdue, according to Mary Seagrave, an attorney representing welfare recipients.

Although most workers she encounters are polite, Seagrave said she’s frequently ignored by clerical workers.

“When I pull out my business card that all changes,” she said.

, DataTimes