Greece’s tax officers being trained in anger management
The Guardian in Athens
Until Greece's economic meltdown, anger management was an alien concept at the country's finance ministry. Patience and politesse were qualities sorely missing in interactions between Greeks and officials tasked with prying duties out of some of the nation's most talented tax dodgers.
Today these are the buzzwords flying around the ministry's training room. For tax inspectors attending mandatory seminars there, anger management, like patience and politesse, are now seen as essential prerequisites of an increasingly stressful job.
"Today, in Greece, everyone is either unhappy or angry when they have to go and pay at the tax office," Fotis Kourmouris, a senior official at the ministry's public revenues department said. "There is a lot of negative emotion ... in the framework of better customer service, classes in psychological and emotional intelligence had become necessary."
An alarming rise in violent incidents against tax officers prompted Athens' fragile coalition to launch the training. In recent months visiting auditors have been chased out of remote villages, hounded out of towns and booted off islands by an increasingly desperate populace.
"We've had multiple cases of violence at tax offices by angry members of the public, including physical assaults; shots were fired in one case, and one attacker came with an axe," said Trifonas Alexiadis, vice-chairman of the national association of employees at state financial services.
About 4,000 tax office employees are required to attend the EU-funded courses, which cover such challenges as attendees dealing with an imaginary rude-caller moments after their spouse has filed for divorce.
"Every employee who deals with customers will attend them over the next six to eight months," said Kourmouris. "We are not only trying to improve relations but break the vicious cycle. Tax offices blame citizens [for the nation's fiscal woes] and citizens blame tax offices for all their problems. It is important that trust is rebuilt."