Receptionists do a lot more than smile and answer the phone. But you wouldn’t know that by the way many companies value their contribution to the firm. Or the way people think about them. Often, they are treated as “lower class” — even within the firm they work for. So why are receptionists so undervalued?
When I was thinking about writing this, I googled receptionist and saw that many people wonder why they are so rude. They also ask if receptionists are obsolete. Certainly a very different take than the one I set out to cover here.
Are receptionists really all that rude?
Well, I’m not going to say that I never met a rude receptionist. Or at least one that seemed aloof and / or unfriendly. I’m sure there are plenty out there.
But, just like any customer service type job, when your work deals with the public all day long — or demanding coworkers — it’s not always easy to keep your smile on. Even though keeping yourself in an up mood for others actually helps you feel better about your day
Also, there are things going on behind the scenes that an outsider might not know. The way receptionists are treated. What kind of day they are personally having. How valued they feel by the company. The quality of their training. Pay. Bosses that yell. Customers that are abusive. Etc.
How much of this is the receptionist’s fault?
It’s hard to know how much of a receptionist’s attitude is because they feel so undervalued. How a person is treated often shows in the way they do their job. But maybe it’s simply that they don’t care and / or don’t have great skills. There’s no way for an outsider to know for sure without having all the details.
Whatever the contributing factors might be, because of their level within an organization they take the blame. Rarely are receptionists on executive radar for advancement or special mentoring. So a smart receptionist needs to rely on themselves to get ahead — with a little help from allies they create.
Things that can affect receptionist job performance
No matter what your job, there are things that can influence how well a job gets done — and even how easy it is for any employee to do that job well. So here are a few things people might want to think about before blaming a receptionist’s performance problems completely on the employee:
- Was the employee trained well enough and are they included in things that help make them feel like an essential part of the company, not just an entry point?
- Does the job include extra responsibilities & opportunities to keep the person interested?
- Are there ways for the receptionist to share things they observe / learn from their front row seat?
- Does anyone ever offer them suggestions / helpful feedback?
- Is the physical environment designed in a way that is pleasant, positive-feeling, keeps the chaos at a minimum? (One receptionist I knew had to sit in a dark space, because the boss thought that was more elegant. Imagine being deprived of light all day!)
This is not to ignore that we bring our own attitude and capabilities with us to a job, no matter what else is going on. And, of course, there are people who really do a bad job, whether it’s because they lack the skills or just don’t have a commitment to excellence.
But it’s still important to remember that badly-designed jobs can happen to good people. And valued employees have a much better chance of performing well. Unfortunately, not all companies get this. So you may have to help a bit.
My own experience as a receptionist
Yup. Out of the many jobs I’ve held, there was a time when I had the pleasure of doing reception work. While it was only temporary, I got to see how important the job can be. And I loved the chance to be the face of the company — well, most of the time.
But there was one thing that made it easier for me to smile and not have to worry about receptionists being undervalued. I already had a masters degree and knew I would eventually talk my way back into a different job, more in tune with my career goals. And I also never felt like less of a person, since I took each job seriously and did my best.
But, that said, of the 7 or so temp receptionist jobs I had, three of them offered me a chance to take on more responsibility. And one of them even resulted in a job offer. (I will explain more about that in another post soon.)
Making the most of your receptionist job
We know that the receptionist is often the first face you see or first voice you hear. And that can color the entire experience for a client, colleague, or potential customer.
Rather than leaving their receptionists feeling so undervalued, a smart company recognizes their true worth. But a smart receptionist can also help them discover their true value.
Some things for a receptionist to think about to help them enhance their work experience:
- What are your goals? No matter what job level you have in a company, it’s good to have career goals. Who are you? What skills do you need to get to where you eventually want to go? This way you can keep alert to useful opportunities.
- How do you view yourself in the receptionist role? Are you buying into a caste system where you are not as valuable? No matter what your job, it’s important to see the job as important and yourself as someone of value. No matter what anyone else thinks or says, we move forward more successfully when we see ourselves as capable people who have a lot to offer the company. Even if we have to wind up in another job, we carry with us all we accomplish.
- Another part of this is how you view yourself outside of work. It’s hard to be one person at work and another one elsewhere. No matter what your job, take pride in yourself. And if you are not proud of yourself, take time to check in on your personal values and start to do things you ARE proud of. Your sense of self will grow stronger, and that alone can shift so many other things in our life.
- Don’t treat any job as temporary, even if you have other goals. It demeans any contributions you make from that position, affecting not only your view of yourself, but how others see your potentials to grow and contribute elsewhere.
- Look for opportunities to improve something at work – a business process, an ongoing issue you have a solution for. Maybe there’s a skill or software program you can learn to pave the way for more responsibility and greater value to your coworkers / boss.
- Most important, connect to people there. From day one, show a willingness to be helpful and supportive. When people see your confident, positive, ready-to-learn attitude, they will be less likely to box you into “receptionist forever”.
- Also, when needed, do not be afraid to ask for support or for things you need to do an even better job. It helps to frame your requests as an effort to help the company, rather than creating an image of yourself as a weak, needy person. Capable. Resourceful. Helpful. And a sense of always being part of the larger team picture.
Some more articles to help