A reader writes:
I work as a receptionist, which may seem simple enough, but it’s not. For years before they hired me, the place where I work did not have a receptionist, so people were able to just come in and go to whomever they wanted. And many of them are still acting like nothing has changed.
Here’s just one example of a scenarios that happen on a regular basis: I will be working. Someone will come in and walk right past me. I will then yell after him, “Sir, may I help you?” Their reply: “I need to see J.” Me: “I need to call J first and make sure she’s available.” They will then say something like: “You do that” or “It’s okay” or “No, you don’t” as they continue going into the office. At this point, I have to decide whether to make that call to J. as they’re continuing into the office or run past them to get to J. first.
And if I’m away from my desk for any amount of time to make copies, fax, scan, stamps, mail, give something to a coworker, etc. (all things that are part of my job responsibilities), with a few exceptions, they will walk right into the office. I understand if I was away from the front for a certain length of time, but I’m talking about 30 seconds/1 minute to make a quick copy/scan/fax.
And then I get reprimanded because there are too many people coming into the office, but I just don’t know how to make them stop.
This job is making me miss working in retail. Sure, I had to work evenings, weekends, holidays for very little pay, but at least the customers were actually capable of getting in a line and waiting their turn. For what it’s worth, I have collectively around 7 years of experience working with the public, and I have always enjoyed it. I would really appreciate any advice.
You need to talk to your manager and find out how she wants you to handle this.
But before we get to that, it’s worth pointing out that since this place didn’t have a receptionist for years before now, it makes sense that visitors to the office are used to being able to just walk back to see whoever they want. They probably think you’re the new person who just doesn’t understand how things work, or who doesn’t recognize them but would of course make an exception for them if you knew who they were. So you might get better results by explicitly acknowledging that the office’s procedures have changed. For instance, smile apologetically and say, “I’m sorry, we’re not letting people walk on back anymore. I can’t send you back just yet.”
Also, when someone ignores your request to wait and instead just walks straight on back to Coworker J, you could alert Coworker J about the problem. Since these are your coworkers’ contacts — who in some cases are being rude — they might be able to take care of it for you. Make sure you explain to your coworkers that you’re being reprimanded when people go back on their own, so that they understand that you’re not just imposing new policies for the hell of it (everyone’s least favorite characteristic in a new receptionist).
However, regardless of all this, you need to talk to your manager because you’re being reprimanded for something you have little control over. Explain what’s happening, explain what you’ve tried, and that it’s not working, and ask how your manager would like you to handle it. If she says, “Just don’t let them go back,” then say, “When I try to stop people and they ignore me and start walking back anyway, what would you like me to do?”
Don’t say this in a petulant way, of course; your tone should convey that you’re sincerely asking for advice and help.
And if this is really important to your manager, you might suggest posting a prominent sign in the reception area that says “Please check in with the receptionist” … but no matter what you try, it’s going to take a while to retrain people who are used to doing it a different way, and you might point that out to your manager.
In general, whenever a manager asks you to something that you’re finding impossible — whether you’re getting reprimanded for it or not — you should immediately raise it with her so that you can determine together how to proceed — whether it’s changing course, coming up with a different plan of attack, or whatever. But you need to explain what’s going on, so that she’s clear on the situation.
What other advice do people have?