Receptionist Needs Help

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about the job of receptionist:

I am the receptionist for my firm. We have 60+ employees and are moderately/very busy. I have, on occasion, had another person sitting at the front desk to assist with the activity, and every time, these people are so pleasant at first, but begin to treat the position with hostility, act “I have a degree. I shouldn’t have to sit at the *%#? front desk!”

They accepted the position after interviewing, and knowing what part of their responsibilities would be, so I’m concerned. I’ve asked myself what I might have done to repeatedly experience this, and can only think that I try to uphold the integrity of the position. Be calm, courteous and consistent. There is no competition on my part, we all have our own way of doing things. I love my job, and have no particular desire to leave the position. I always try to communicate this. As an aside, all of the women that have been my co-workers at the front desk, also did additional administrative work for the firm. ¬†It has not been an issue when I have had our runners assist me. They are all male. I’m 57, and they are early 20’s. They don’t get angry, but do acknowledge that it can be intense. My immediate supervisor asked me how I contributed to the situation, and then apologized for having done so, saying I’m the best at what I do…

So, after all this, how does one respond to this? I typically say to the people that are obviously struggling, speak to management, I’ve been instructed to show you how it works up front. I’m not criticizing you, just trying to give you the most information to help you. Take what you learn and make it your own. The rest of the staff, 100% of the time, are friendly and appreciative.

Signed, Frustrated

Dear Frustrated:

Your situation is frustrating to you and obviously frustrating to your manager as well. The two of you, with some shared thoughts from employees, are the ones who can best work this out. I would like to be able to give you a good set of suggestions for what might be the problem and how to fix it, but there are obviously many variables; and a lot of gaps in my understanding of the situation.

1. You say that women who are supposed to assist you start out nice but they tend up saying they shouldn’t have to work at the desk, even though they are told when they are hired that it is part of their potential work. Apparently something happens between the time they start out nice and the time they are angry and not wanting to work at the desk. Equally apparently, this has happened repeatedly; often enough that your manager implied you are doing something that causes the change in their attitudes.Don’t put too much reliance in the fact that your manager quickly apologized after asking you what you had done to contribute to the problem. He probably realized he had hurt or offended you or that it sounded as though he was blaming you completely. However, if he said it, he meant it at the time. He is wondering why there is recurring conflict about those who are assigned to assist you. I also bet he has some thoughts about it, so you would benefit from talking to him.Consider essentially asking him some of the same questions you sent to us. “Jim, I’ve thought about what you asked me the other day; about what I have done to contribute to the problems we’re having with getting people to assist with the front desk work. Please be honest with me about this, because I want to find a solution. You know everyone involved and you’ve seen the work being done. Are there some things you have heard about or observed that I may be doing inadvertently to irritate someone who is assigned to work the desk?” If you are open to suggestions, he may have some made some observations or have had conversations with the women who have helped at the desk. Or, he may reassure you that he sees no problems at all. Either way it would be good to know.

2. Rather than waiting until employees are established in their regular work, then having them assist at the desk, consider having every new employee who may need to work the desk, spend a few days in training about it part of their overall orientation. You may need to retrain later on, but at least they will know what to expect and will be learning at a time when they are more willing to do any work they are given.

3. I would imagine it’s hard for you to do your work while training others. If there is any way to have some of it in writing, that might save a lot of frustration. (I realize it takes time to develop the instructions, but maybe there are one or two things that can be done that way.)Another advantage of putting the instructions in writing is that your manager will know what you are telling others to do. You mention that you’ve told employees that they should make the work their own and you are giving them the information they need. But, it would seem there is a right way and a wrong way to do the work, so they really can’t just make it their own. Talk to your manager about the requirements of the work. He may decide some of those can be changed. Or, maybe he should talk to each employee before they are told to assist at the desk and instruct them that they are to be guided by your training.

4. One of the things every employee with a work specialty has to watch is viewing their work as so special that it is very, very complex, even when in reality it doesn’t need to be that way. That may not be the situation with your work, but we hear from many employees who are presenting a situation such as you describe, only from their perspective. One writer told us that the woman who worked at a desk where she helped now and then, had made the assignment so complicated and was so picky about it that no one could get it done the way she wanted it. I thought of that writer immediately when I read your letter. Having your manager review your instructions would be helpful for deciding if there are things that are not needed by those who assist or if everything really must be done the way you describe to employees. Only you know if your demeanor is as reasonable as you describe in your letter. When you say you tell complaining employees to talk to management, that says to me that there have been some strong disagreements. If there have been some employees who have learned and done well, you could ask them their views about the situation and why they think they learned while others find it so difficult.

5. This all comes back to your manager and his willingness to help you analyze how to improve the situation. Maybe the desk assignment needs to be reassessed. Maybe some aspect of training needs to change. But, the only way to know will be to look at specific training situations and talk to the employees to find out when the disconnection happened between them wanting to help an suddenly hating the work.Look at these pivotal times:*When have the first negative attitudes been expressed by those who are assisting? Have those negative thoughts been about any one specific thing or at any one specific part of the training program or while doing a particular task? *Has anyone learned the job well? As mentioned above, those people would be good resources. *How is the assignment viewed by the rest of the staff? Does it hurt an employee’s status to do the work? Is there a perception of gender inequity or some other thing that could be changed? *Do the employees who help you end up having their regular work suffer? Could it be that they think no one should be required to help? Could it be they are correct? *Are there other offices similar to yours who have similar situations? Perhaps you can find out how they provide training or how they handle the desk assignment.*Think about what other remarks employees have made, other than about having degrees so they shouldn’t have to work the desk. Often the angry, blurted remarks of an employee have more truth than the things they say after they think about it. Situations such as yours have many dynamics and all of them can be the cause of this problem. You will only be able to find a solution by talking to those who are most involved; your manager and those who have gone through training. If your manager’s view is that it doesn’t matter whether employees like helping or not, they have to do it, maybe all that is needed is a clear message to all those involved.I said at the beginning of my response that I wish I could give you a tidy list of suggestions. However, I hope I’ve at least given you a few things to think about and to talk to your manager about. Best wishes to you with this concern. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what you do about it and how it works out.

Tina Lewis Rowe