visitors to our office are out-of-control — and I’m in trouble for it!

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?

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey*

    I agree with a caveat. Go in with potential solutions. Don’t just ask “what do you want me to do?” It’s far better to say “this is what’s happening and here is what I think would solve it.”

    1. Ann*

      I would agree, but some situations have no real options. She could suggest a sign perhaps, or start a sign-in log. But, if the visitors and clients are rude enough to brush her off as they already are, they’re not likely to stop and there is no real solution to that.

  2. COT*

    It might also help if your coworkers understand why the policy has changed, so that everyone can clearly communicate that to visitors. If people are used to doing without a receptionist, they might not see the point to enforcing this new rule. Maybe you and/or your supervisor can draft a short memo explaining why it’s so important that visitors check in at the front desk.

    1. KellyK*

      I think this is really important. People need to know that the rule exists, and more importantly *why* it exists and on whose authority it’s being enforced. Did something specific prompt it? Was there a policy change or a safety incident? (It might not be appropriate to go into details, but if you know why it’s an issue for your organization in particular, that can help you explain it better.)

      There are probably a million reasons for tracking who’s coming and going, everything from confidential information to petty theft to protecting employees from a stalker or abusive ex to making sure you get everybody out if the building catches fire. So this isn’t some mickey mouse rule that’s going to be hard to justify.

      I think that if you sit down with your boss and either you or they send something out explaining why this is an issue, it will help a lot.

    2. KarenT*

      Yes, your company needs to issue a visitors policy and explain it to every person in your company. Something that communicates effective immediately all visitors must sign in at reception before entering the office space and that it is the responsibility of employees expecting drop ins to communicate this to their guests. Your employees should support this; if they hired a receptionist to avoid interruptions from guests they need to help implement procedures that accomplish this goal.

      Employees can’t predict all drop ins, but it’s very resasonable if they are expecting someone or have someone who visits frequently to say “I know you are coming to our office at Thursday. Our security policies have changed. Please sign in at reception.”

  3. Dave*

    To me this is a no brainer, 3 part answer:
    1) A sign similar to what AAM suggested, and a “log book”
    2) A physical barrier to entrance, such as a simple unlocked, fire-safe, door.
    3) All of your additional duties (except bathroom/lunch/scheduled breaks of course) need to be able to be completed within the reception area. This may involve adding a printer/copier/fax to your area. It may also involve calling a backup receptionist for those minute-long breaks including bathroom.

  4. Hugo*

    Is the office an open-floor plan? Is there not a physical barrier that a visitor must cross to get past you? Maybe set up a small table with a visitor log that they should fill out to at least halt them for a few minutes?

    I know this may sound tacky and stand-offish, but these type of setups make it look more like “policy” for them to not walk right past you…otherwise you’re always the bad guy for stopping them which I’m sure gets tiring.

  5. Eric*

    There is a technological solution to this and it is so common that it needs to happen here. Many offices have access control solutions where the door is controlled by the receptionist or employees carrying a badge. Visitors simply cannot wander into the employee area.

    1. Jen in RO*

      I’m pretty sure no one is going to invest in something like this just because the receptionist brought it up… especially in a small company which simply might not afford it.

      1. EJ*

        That depends how important this policy is to the company. This is a directive from her manager, not something the employee has come up with on their own.

    2. Brooke*

      We are a small office and we have some sort of buzzer at the front desk that unlocks the door to allow people access to the back office, but this requires them speaking with the receptionist to let them know who they are and what they need. It prevents a lot of potential problems. I don’t think it’s a very advanced system. The door only stays locked from the outside, so someone from the back is able to open it without unlocking it, it just locks from the outside so the public can’t just waltz on back when they feel like it. When someone is permitted to go back and find the person they wish to speak with, the receptionist pushes a button to the side of her desk and the person only has to pull on the door handle and they are able to go back. It may be worth looking into as well…that is, if there is a door leading to the back offices.

      1. De Minimis*

        Yes, I think a lot depends on how the office is laid out. Anything electronic can be pretty expensive, we are in the process of overhauling our access system and it’s a pretty significant cost.
        My previous job was for a non-profit and they had a locksmith come in at one point to install locks [we had an unlocked door that went to the back offices.]

        If there is no door or physical barrier at all, this may be pretty difficult to resolve.

  6. Gene*

    Velvet rope and a clipboard toting big guy in a tight black shirt.

    OK, that’s overkill, but it sounds like you need some sort of barrier.

  7. Brook*

    Seems like the receptionist’s job would be exponentially easier if the office made a few changes to their entryway. Some physical changes would serve to let the patrons know that things have changed. Some new reception furniture, a shift in the path they have to take to reach their intended target, even a shift in lighting could help. (If the waiting area is much lighter than the hallway, it’ll cue that only the waiting area is a public space. The installation of a door with a plaque reading “No Unauthorized Entry” could help enforce the idea of having to check-in.

    You could also try a new script, “I’m sorry, John only sees people by appointment now, but I know he’ll want to work you in. Why don’t you take a seat and I’ll see if he’s free right now. ” This phrasing makes gives the client the idea that he/she is important, but needs to respect people’s time. Of course it assumes that they do want to push clients to make appointments. You also really need the back of house staff to back you up on that; whenever they are confronted with a barge-in, they need to say “Rob, I’m glad to see you, but I need a minute to finish something up. Why don’t you wait in the lobby, there’s coffee you’d like.”

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, the rest of the staff backing up the receptionist seems to be a large part of the OP’s problem here. She simply can’t enforce it if the coworkers are like “Oh, come on back!”

  8. caligirl*

    You aren’t alone in this! I had the same experience. The New Year is a good time to implement an updated process for the office; call it a resolution or process improvement. As mentioned, get a visitor’s log and a welcome sign in one of those stand up plastic frames saying “Welcome to X! Please sign in.” If you aren’t able to purchase a visitors log, make one yourself and use a binder. Also tell your coworkers that you’d like access to their calendars so you have an idea of the appointments for the day. This won’t help with drop-ins but it is a start. You could try a candy dish or cookies on the reception counter… people love to stop and grab a treat or tell you how their diet is going! Your manager needs to support your new process otherwise nothing will improve, sadly. Good luck!

  9. Anonymous*

    You need a sign, log book, and an area for seating.
    If certain people still offend, then the person they are visiting needs to be notified they have to relay the policy to these visitors.

    1. KarenT*

      Yes! A seating area is key. As is explaining it, like “please take a seat while I call Mary to see if she is avaiable.”

  10. businesslady*

    I used to be in a receptionist role, so this advice is given with a caveat of “I realize that some people will just rudely barge past you & force you to chase after them no matter what you do.” (also, I cosign all the suggestions above to make the space less easy to breeze into–even moving the water cooler or making it more of a maze will probably help to slow down visitors–& ensuring you have a backup when you’re away from your desk.)

    you’ll also be well-served by being a bit more proactive about greeting people when they walk in. while I recognize that this is disruptive to your workflow, I found that immediately saying “hi” to incoming guests made it harder for them to ignore me. if they just say “hi there,” & keep walking, at least then there’s an interaction for you to follow up on. (also, if there’s coffee/water in the reception area, you can follow up immediately with offering them a drink, which will both make you seem friendlier & give them a reason to stay put for a bit if they say yes.)

    you might also try “excuse me” instead of “may I help you” when trying to stop people–I feel like “may I help you” is either overly obsequious or implicitly snooty depending on tone, whereas “excuse me” is more neutral (although that might be personal preference). but regardless, it shuts down the option of them saying (aloud or to themselves), “no, I don’t need to be helped”–“excuse me” implies “regrettably, you need to pay attention to me now,” which I think is what you need here.

    1. Brooke*

      I agree with this 100%. I was even going to suggest taking it a step further. While it sounds very professional and polite to say “May I help you?” it may be possibly too nice…therefore making it easy to ignore. I am a small, soft-spoken girl with a fairly high pitched voice so I know how it is to not be taken seriously or for people to think they can just ignore what I say, thinking I won’t be able to do anything. In a way, I’m just dying to say that you need to assert your dominance, but that sounds too harsh. It’s a fine line between being firm and being rude/mean. I was thinking maybe when they come in, maybe say, “Hi! I’m Jane and I’m the new receptionist here. Who is it that you’re here to see and I can check to see if they can meet with you?” Still understanding that people sometimes don’t take others seriously (and if you have no way of blocking them from the other offices), I know that people will still ignore you and keep on walking. At this point, I would be very firm, possibly politely stepping in front of them to let them know they are “crossing the line” and tell them that it is now your job to take guest names and alert the other workers in the office that someone is there to see them and that you are sorry, but your office no longer allows guests to just walk back. If they insist that they are “important” to employee J., I would suggest to them that they should speak with J. and if J. tells you that it is okay to let that person go on back, you will be happy to do so in the future, but until that time comes, you must abide by company policy. While the guests are not going to like this, they will probably abide by the rules (with a bad attitude, of course) because you let them know that you were not going to accept them ignoring you and doing what they want. Just keep in mind that you’re in charge of this area and let people know that by your actions and firm responses. When people push you, if you push back, they are much more likely to back down.

    2. Cassie*

      “Excuse me” might be confusing, though – if I walked into an office and the person said “excuse me”, I wouldn’t get that he/she wanted me to check in. When I walk into offices, I do kind of look around (because I don’t want to be that person who’s walking down the hall while the receptionist has to call me back to the front). But for, like, my mom – she tends to just walk in without looking around. If the receptionist said “excuse me”, she probably wouldn’t even look up. She’d just continue walking, oblivious to the world. At least if you say “good morning!”, followed by a “how can I help you?” or something along those lines, she’d be more inclined to stop and respond.

      1. Ellie H.*

        If someone doesn’t understand to pause and see what the person saying it wants upon hearing “Excuse me,” I kind of think that that’s on him or her. “Excuse me” is a pretty standard expression with a clear meaning.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree – I can’t for the life of me imagine hearing someone direct an “excuse me?” at me where I wouldn’t stop to see what they wanted.

          I don’t see any ambiguity in the phrase, either.

      2. Min*

        I agree that, “Excuse me,” on its own does not necessarily imply that you need to stop and check in. While it isn’t as nice as, “May I help you?”, it is definitely more vague. Also, it always comes across as a bit rude to me when it’s used on its own instead of as the beginning of a sentence. That part could just be me, though.

  11. Joanna Reichert*

    A few things.

    There needs to be a prominent sign on the front door – with bold black letters, maybe some neon coloration? – that says “COMPANY POLICY – All Visitors Must Sign In With Receptionist”. With another sign on your desk/counter of “Visitor Check-In”.

    A standard greeting of, “Hello! May I page someone for you?” should probably be enacted. It throws out the harmless assumption that they have business with someone and you’ll take care of contacting said person. Simply saying, “May I help you?” or anything else allows them to sidetrack your authority.

    And yes, likely guests are just too used to the old way of doing things and you’re viewed as a nagging hindrance to their purpose. Maybe that sounds unkind, but I’m just being truthful here.

    The other employees need to be upholding this understanding by stressing to their guests that there’s a new way of doing things and being proactive in asking wandering guests if they’ve checked in with the receptionist.

  12. mel*

    …Wait a second. If this rule came about because they don’t want people entering their offices ho-hum, why are they greeting these surprise visitors as if what they did was ok? Can’t they just say, “Hey Jo, please sign in at reception and wait for your turn.”

    It’s funny OP mentions retail because the situation kind of reminds me of the times when customers demand things that a cashier is told to refuse. “No, I can’t give you the sale price from three months ago!” The customer then demands to speak to the manager, who then comes up to the front. Then, in front of everyone, humiliates the cashier by giving the customer whatever he/she wants.

    If they don’t want people to barge into the offices, why are they being rewarded for it?

    1. Yup*

      Ditto this. The other employees need to be on board with the policy, so that when a visitor just walks past you the employee says, “Oh, we have new policy where you check in with reception now. Let me introduce you to Sam, our receptionist,” and brings them back up front to you.

      I’d bring it your boss in all the ways AAM and others are recommending, but I’d also look for a public forum like a staff meeting to bring it up. “Hey everyone, as you know we have this new policy. Please let your visitors know this so they aren’t confused about why I’m trying to intervene. If you’re expecting a visitor, tell them to check in with the receptionist first.”

    2. Receptionist(OP)*

      Hello! Thank you all for the comments. This is the original poster. I will make a large post later on, but I want to make a reply to this comment.
      You would think they would do that. That J. or any of the other 12 people in the office (who all know about the new policy) could just say: “I would love to help you. But please see the receptionist before coming in.” But they won’t. They will just help the visitors who barge in as though nothing has changed, sending a message to the visitors that nothing has changed and that I’m just the silly new girl who doesn’t know any better. And then I will get reprimanded because I’m letting people into the office.

      1. KayDay*

        If the staff members are refusing to follow the policy, as you asked, your boss really needs to step in to tell them to. (Of course, first you need to talk to your boss about it, to let her know what’s going on).

        Once you have talked to your boss, I think it’s fair to “tattle” (per the previous post) that the guy who just barged in was Mary’s guest and you asked him to sign in twice.

      2. A Bug!*

        That is terrible. I don’t know what your manager thinks you’re going to be able to do when you don’t get any support from the others. After all, it’s the office workers who are these people’s primary point of contact – they’re going to take cues from them, not you. You’re not going to be able to stop them without being actually aggressive, and something tells me that your manager doesn’t want that.

        Something definitely needs to be addressed with them, even if it’s just a quick memo.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        OP, has your organization made it clear to all your coworkers that this is the new policy and they’re expected to follow it and why? If they haven’t, that’s the first thing you need to ask for. If they have, and people aren’t doing it, then you need to let your manager know that.

        If no one has made it clear to them, then it’s no wonder they’re not abiding by it.

      4. apostrophina*

        Would your boss be willing to send out an e-mail about this? I suspect that in my company, this would be handled by a message something like “As a reminder, it is part of LW’s duties to make sure clients are checked in. To assist with this, LW will be [keeping a log book, paging the appropriate person, whatever]. Please make sure all of your clients are aware of the need to check in.”

    3. A Bug!*

      This was my question. Are the office workers acting as if the visitors are there with the receptionist’s blessing and blaming her for letting them past? Because these people should be responding with “Oh, I wasn’t expecting you! Did you check in with Receptionist? … I know we didn’t always have a receptionist but now that we do we’re asking all visitors to check in with her.”

      If the visitors are already inclined to disregard the receptionist, they’re going to continue to do so as long as the office workers continue to treat them the same as they always have. If the receptionist continues to push with no support from the office workers, the visitors are just going to view her as a tyrant in a teapot.

      1. Anonymous Accountant*

        “Tyrant in a teapot” has me laughing. I like it and will remember it for future reference.

  13. COT*

    Also, if the reception desk is ever unstaffed, you need a way for visitors to notify you that they’re waiting. I hate walking into an office and being unable to find anyone to help me… and just standing there awkwardly, or wandering around looking for someone.

    This could be addressed either with an inexpensive quiet door chime or with a “ring bell for service” kind of bell at the front desk. Do you want to be summoned by a bell? Perhaps not, but the alternative is having people wander into the office on their own.

    Otherwise, as people have said, you could try to have better coverage for when you’re away from the desk and set up more equipment in your workspace (or within sight of it) so that you don’t need to be away as often.

    1. Cassie*

      If they do get a bell, maybe a coworker who sits near the front can be tasked with providing back-up for those brief moments where the receptionist is away. For the receptionist’s lunch break or 15-minute break, someone can be assigned to watch the desk. But for the brief 1-2 minutes where the receptionist is dashing off a quick copy or whatever – I think having people ring a bell and then a nearby coworker can step up could work. They do this at the university’s cashier’s office – there are a couple of windows that are usually staffed but if they aren’t there, there’s a bell to ring and one of the staffers from the desks will step forward. (Of course, they have a window that separates the staffers from the students/clients).

      I get that it might be somewhat annoying for the coworkers nearby to have to stop their work, but if it was a rare occurrence, I wouldn’t mind. I usually have to sign for deliveries because the guy who sits next to me is frequently away from his desk (a good part of his job duties requires him to be out and about). But as long as I can sit at my desk and just be interrupted for a minute or two (rather than have to sit in someone else’s cubicle waiting), it’s fine.

  14. mimimi*

    I think the manager should have informed the staff that this is the new policy. An ideal time to do this would be when introducing the new receptionist to everyone, but it could be done in an e-mail also, instructing staff to let visitors know that they will now have to stop at the desk (and that way, staff couldn’t say “Oh I didn’t know”).

    This wouldn’t stop the problem altogether but it would probably have helped, as people wouldn’t now be blaming the receptionist as if she is doing something wrong when she is doing her job.

    A sign is a good idea also. A big one. With red flashing lights if possible. It can be difficult to get the attention of the entitled. And a physical barrier is best, if feasible.

  15. KellyK*

    If your company really wants to make sure that random visitors aren’t walking around unescorted, then either a receptionist needs to be at the reception area every minute that the office is unlocked, or there needs to be a physical way of denying access, like a door that locks.

    Unfortunately, unless the company really expects a security breach to put them out of business, no one’s likely to rearrange the office floor plan or set up door locks with scan-keys. That said, if there’s a simple, cheap way to arrange things so that people need you to let them in, I would suggest it. (For example, if there’s a door that currently stays open but could be locked, that would be an easy solution.)

    In addition to Alison’s advice, I’d also ask what to do about bathroom breaks and other duties. Are you supposed to have someone cover for you? If so, who, and do they know that’s now part of their job? Can the copier or printer be moved to the front? Can you save some of the copying and mail delivery for before or after hours? Can you “close” for an hour during lunch, take your break and do copying, and have any visitors call their parties to come up front and let them in?

  16. Cruella DaBoss*

    We had a similar situation a few years ago and the powers that be deciced to install the electromagnetic doors throughout and use the swipe cards to open them.

    After that, everyone had to be called to the reception area to retrieve their visitors. There was a button under the reception desk to let people through, as needed, but mostly, people had to use their swipe cards.

    Needless to say that stopped all who traipsed in unannounced in a hurry. I’m told it was funny to watch more than one vistitor get a surprise as they hit a locked door.

  17. KayDay*

    A lot of the ideas mentioned here are very good in theory, but may not work in the OP’s case. If the office previously did not have a receptionist, I would venture to guess that the business is small enough that they aren’t going to invest heavily in a new office security system. So any solution that requires building walls, installing entry systems, and purchasing anything expensive is probably a non starter. Hugo’s suggestion to put a table in front of the entrance may help a lot with very little investment. And if the company really wants people to wait up front, they definitely should have guest chairs available.

    Also, I agree that the policy, and especially the reasons behind it, need to be explained to the staff. However, I really think that this should come from the OP’s boss, both because the OP is new, and also because so far people really haven’t been listening to the OP. The staff members then need to explain this policy to their guests when they invite them/when the guest arrive uninvited.

    The OP should definite talk to his/her boss about this, and explain what they have tried to do and ask how “aggressive” they should be in stopping people. Some bosses may value the receptionist being super-sweet and polite above all else, where as others may wish you to be more assertive in stopping people. I’m guessing this boss is in the latter category, but I think the OP should clarify this just to be sure.

    Finally, the suggestions above about using more specific/assertive language when greeting people is great (“Hello, who may I page for you?” and “excuse me”). It won’t work for every guest, but it will help to separate the guest who simply didn’t realize the policy had changed from the one’s who are intentionally being rude.

    1. Not So NewReader*


      OP, this is not a do it yourself project. It probably feels like herding cats. It is.
      The first thing that jumped out at me is the company decided on a policy and told the receptionist to implement it. This will not work. Ever. I have never seen one person turn an entire work place around. Management needs to help you. (If they did not help me, I would make a little sign and tape it to the door myself. I would be that sick of being “yelled at”.)

      There are many great suggestions here that will work. A trump card to keep up your sleeve is you can tell people “Oh, for fire safety purposes we have to know who is in the building.”
      This is a great thing to say because EVERYONE wants to be found if there is a fire. This will motivate people into complying with your request.
      Do not be afraid to pull out your “mom voice” and use it. Don’t forget some times humor will get the point across. Different people require different techniques. You won’t spend the rest of your life arguing with visitors- it will change in a bit.

      A company I worked for installed a receptionist’s area near a side door that was used frequently. Not too many people tried to speed by the receptionist. One reason was because we were all told “If you see a stranger/visitor in the building stop and ask if you can help them. If they are lost redirect them back to the receptionist area so the person they are looking for can be paged.” (It was easy to get lost in our building- the layout did not make much sense.) We were told non-employees should be escorted by a company employee.

      This worked out very well. And I thought we were a bit happier knowing that there was some control over who walked in the door.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Yes yes yes.
        And at Exjob, you had to come to MY desk to get safety glasses if you were going into the plant, which even if you were a regular vendor, you could NOT enter without them. Also, emergency procedures were printed on the back of your little visitor’s badge.

  18. Mary*

    It’s a safety hazard to have unaccounted for guests in the building period. Look up your local laws and I guarantee you’ll find enough ammunition for you to take to the boss to prove that people must not ignore you upon entering the workplace.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like the boss is already on board in wanting people to check in, but that the problem is more that they’re not and the OP is at a loss about how to handle that.

      1. KarenT*

        It may vary by area. I don’t know if there is a law where I am or not, but we are supposed to know who’s in the building in case of fire or building capacity, and for general security.

    2. HRbyproxy*

      I agree with this one. All it takes is one employee with a physically abusive partner, or one $20 bill stolen out of someone’s wallet, to turn this from annoying into a legal issue.

    3. Mary*

      I admit I did reply without reading everyone else posts thoroughly. I think though a receptionist is deemed a “gate keeper” for a reason. Make there be penalties for the employees involved with guests who did not sign in and out.

    1. Job seeker*

      LOL. Well, your suggestion of a baby gate might work. We have a large home and we also have a baby gate up separating our kitchen and family room from our formal rooms (dining room and living room). This keeps our little dogs from roaming around when we don’t want them too. Maybe, this would work for this receptionist too. Just kidding.

    2. twentymilehike*

      A baby gate!

      Oh this made me LOL!! Brad Williams was on KROQ this morning during my morning commute, telling a story about being C-blocked by a woman’s baby gate. He needed a “boost” to get over it …

      Perfect solution if your clients are dwarves, children or small dogs LOL :)

    3. Dorothy*

      Love this! A baby gate flashed across my mind for an instant, then I realized that we were talking humans here, not dogs… Though I would love to see this in practice and how people would behave! It would at least slow them down long enough for OP to get their attention!

  19. Soni*

    Has it occurred to anyone to send out a mass email to the clients explaining the new procedure? From OPs letter, it seems like this is being “perpetrated” by existing, long-time clients, so the emails should be on file.

    1. fposte*

      Unfortunately, if I were a client, I’d be pretty annoyed by that, and I wouldn’t remember it the next time I came in anyway.

  20. ChristineH*

    Ugh…this just reminds me why I hated the two receptionist jobs I had, one at a doctor’s office, the other with a wholesale manufacturer. In both jobs, I lasted a grand total of 2 and 2.5 weeks respectively. The receptionist is, to me, can set the tone for a person’s experience with a company/agency/organization. Yet, I sometimes feel like receptionists are thrown to the wolves without any real guidelines. At the manufacturer, I too hated leaving the desk to make copies because it felt like I was burdening everyone else when the phone would ring. My other big issue: When I wasn’t made aware if someone was out that day or was in a meeting. Granted I’m drawing from experience that was 10+ years ago, but I would probably feel very much the same now as I did then.

    Anyways….I would definitely have a chat with your manager about this. Hope it works out…good luck!

    1. ChristineH*

      Also wanted to add that I agree that a new security system or redesign shouldn’t be necessary; I like the ideas of signage and perhaps a sign-in book. I truly believe any change in policies and services can be implemented without going all hi-tech or doing major reconstruction.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      My other big issue: When I wasn’t made aware if someone was out that day or was in a meeting. Granted I’m drawing from experience that was 10+ years ago, but I would probably feel very much the same now as I did then.

      OH BELIEVE ME this does not get any better! This is a huge pet peeve for me as well!

  21. Chocolate Teapot*

    I remember at an old job buzzing somebody in (it was in an old townhouse and the front door had an intercom system) and before I could ask what they wanted, the person had bounded up the stairs to find my then boss (who was out).

    My boss was then insisting on knowing whether the visitor had gone into one of the offices. He didn’t seem convinced when I said I didn’t think so. Short of rugby tackling the visitor on the stairs, I’m not sure what else I could have done.

  22. Michelle*

    I agree many of the suggests, but wanted to throw in a few additional ideas.

    1) change the receptionist / lobby area layout. By moving the desk and chairs around, that change alone can signify that the process of entering the office is different. If at all possible, arrange your desk so that it is in the direct line of entry to the back offices.

    2) issue “visitor” badges and place a sign that says, all guests beyond this point are required to wear a visitor badge at all times. This will prompt the guests to stop by your desk to sign in and obtain said badge.

    Good luck!

  23. Yuu*

    If you can, put the sign on the door rather than on your desk (if its something they open).
    My wording would be:
    New Office Policy:
    Please sign in with the receptionist.

  24. Elizabeth West*

    Perhaps the layout of the receptionist’s area could be changed so it discourages people from walking past. If there are cubes, they can be rearranged, maybe? I feel this one, since my last job was in an open office, and everyone was supposed to sign in and get a Visitor’s badge. They were able to walk through a narrow slot to get past me, but the main desk was right in front of them. It kind of mentally stopped them when they came in.

    As far as the other employees, it needs to be reiterated by management that this is the policy. We tried and tried to get people to make their visitors do that, and it never penetrated to everyone because it wasn’t enforced from the top down. A sign-in sheet and a plastic sign holder on the counter with a flyer saying “STOP! YOU MUST SIGN IN!” did little to motivate my coworkers when I wasn’t up front.

  25. Mike C.*

    The whole situation is frustrating to me, as I have to deal with all sorts of secure, proprietary and export controlled data on a daily basis. If a business has the need to control who goes in and why, then they need to take that need seriously or abandon that need all together.

    So what I keep hearing is that a simply lock on the door or a key card is simply “way too expensive”, yet this business can’t even give the OP the authority to enforce this new policy or even enforce it themselves. Either data and personnel security is important to the business or it isn’t.

    Here’s a fun game for the OP: make a few numbered lanyards for “Guests” or “Visitors” and tell the employees that if they see a non-employee walking around without one that they need to be escorted back to the front desk to sign in. Heck, get your manager to make this sort of thing *everyone’s* job, much like it’s everyone’s job not to leave company laptops in public places and so on. Additionally, if you want to bring the fire/safety issue up, a quick count of remaining lanyards will help you count how many folks are in the building.

    The fact your manager can’t even see this just blows my mind.

    1. fposte*

      Mostly businesses don’t need to take security seriously, though, and doing so would interfere with dealing with their clients; they just don’t want to have clients wandering past them during parties or peeking in the door when they’re meeting with a competitor/adversary. What makes sense is therefore going to depend a lot on the industry in which the OP works and the local culture; in some workplaces a mandatory visitor’s badge and buzzing people in makes perfect sense, and in others doing anything other than asking them to have a seat is doing to be too interventionist.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Yes, make it part of your safety protocol. I was supposed to grab the sign-in sheet clipboard in case of emergency evacuation, so we could check if there were visitors in the building. Of course, I forgot it when we were hit by a tornado (sorry, but those things freak me out). But the one vendor that was in the office was in the shelter with us.

  26. Sophia*

    With regard to leaving the desk unmanned in order to take care of the photocopying/deal with the mail/take a bathroom break etc. is it possible to allocate a single block of time in which all those tasks get done in succession? In my experience, it’s always been easier to get someone to stand behind the desk for five minutes once a day than to get multiple people to pop in and out throughout the day.

    Is there anyone who covers your lunchbreak? Could they come in ten minutes earlier or stay ten minutes later without impacting too greatly on their workload?

    1. Chinook*

      Please, if you are going to institute a scheduled break for a receptionist, give them 2 in a full day. One scheduled pee break a day is just cruel.

  27. TL*

    I’m sorry for the OP! I’ve been a receptionist, and this sounds like a frustrating situation.

    Really, this should be a team effort, since the OP can’t reasonably be expected to chase people down or block the door. I second everyone’s suggestions to have the manager address the issue with the other employees, and have them inform their contacts of the new policies.

    A sign-in sheet (just name and time), and a prominent sign instructing visitors to sign in with the receptionist, will probably be sufficient if the coworkers do the above.

    If you step out for just a minute or two, have a sign that you can put on your desk, saying that the receptionist will be back in just a moment, and to ring for service. Longer breaks should be covered by another employee. (I’m a little hesitant to suggest that the OP restrict her activities unnecessarily – there’s no reason that she should have to be tied to her desk, and can’t walk into another room for 30 seconds to make a copy. That has the potential to become “The receptionist cannot leave her post for ANY reason, EVER” very quickly. Speaking from experience, that is a pain. Obviously, if the building needs to be secure, then I understand that kind of a policy – but it doesn’t sound like that’s the case. And if security is really so important, the company can set up physical blocks to access.)

  28. Michelle*

    Hi OP,
    I’m a “receptionist” at a college fitness center. Luckily, the relaxed attitude of my work place means that I’ve never gotten in trouble for the fact that our check in policy is unenforceable. But I wish I could do my job better and have read the comments here with real interest.

    If I was in a more formal setting and needed to be proactive like you, I’d make a list of all the suggestions here. I’d separate it into solutions that would cost the company a substantial amount of money, the ones that would need regular support (like management periodically buying classy sign in books), and the ones I can do myself. I’d also brain storm and cherry pick from this discussion any questions I have.

    Personally, I am wondering if all the staff was informed? Are they in agreement with the new policy? Why was the change in policy made? Does my manager want me to use a firm approach where I’m allowed to assert a dominant attitude or does the atmosphere call for a gentle touch where the customer is always right? And I’d *love* to know when someone is out of town or in an expected meeting, so I don’t tell clients to seek an employee when they aren’t going to be around, etc.

    I’d then have an open attitude discussion with my boss about the fact that I *want* to do a great job and I need to know which ways of handling the inherent catch-22’s she is comfortable with me trying. As part of the conversation, I’d ask my questions to get a clearer picture of what’s going on, before suggesting the most appropriate solutions for the budget you and your boss have to work within.

    ps. blaming fire codes sounds goofy to me…office fires just don’t happen that often in the US. I’d say it’s a new security policy to keep people safer in the future–which it could.
    pps. “I’m told it was funny to watch more than one visitor get a surprise as they hit a locked door.” Thank you Cruella DaBoss! I know most visitors not following the rules don’t mean any harm, but they sure can be frustrating–would love to see this happen to the non-listening ones!

    1. Mike C.*

      Many municipalities require yearly fire drills, part of which is to account as best as possible for all the people inside the building.

  29. CW*

    I liked the suggestions above regarding putting some pressure on the recipients of the visitors, and I’m not sure if anyone has suggested this yet as I didn’t read all the comments.

    Saw someone suggest a sign-in book and a good way to establish this as good practice is to dish out visitor badges to those who sign. You’d be well within reason to suggest this for security/fire safety reasons, but it might also help you in your job.

    If you could try to influence a policy of everyone visiting the premises having a visitor badge it could be a thing that your manager picks up to make sure that everyone who is being visited there makes sure that if visitors don’t have one they then have to go back to you at reception and sign in properly.

    It would be a pain for everyone for a few weeks, but then a habit would be formed.

  30. Liz*

    At my office we have a reception area and then doors leading back to the actual office. The doors to the office area are locked so people can’t walk in. The receptionist can buzz a person in, otherwise staff have to come up to welcome visitors and walk them back.
    If people aren’t really allowed back without calling staff, an environmental fix like that is really easy.

  31. Receptionist (OP)*

    Hello. This is the original poster. A big thank you to AAM and the readers for replying. I’m going to try to address the comments/responses in this post, so I apologize for the length.

    First, I should elaborate the nature of the business. I work in a management office in a condominium of a little over 500 units. The office consists of 5(including myself) paid employees and 9 unpaid board members. The
    types of people coming into the office are employees that don’t work in the office (security, valet, maintenance, housekeeping, etc.), who can come into the office as they please; those outside of the condominiums, like contractors and real estate agents, whom I have no complaints about; and the residents, whom are the major source of my frustration. The residents, whether because they pay maintenance fees or whether because the office is in their place of residence, tend to view the office as not a business but an informal place where they can stop by, chit chat, make complaints, get something, etc.

    The various ideas presented (the log-in book, bell, visitor pass, etc.) are wonderful, but they will never happen. Because residents will be complaining constantly: we pay maintenance, and we live here. We should be able to come and go as we please. We are being treated like outsiders. Etc. Etc. And I’m sure the board members, who live in the same building as the residents, don’t want to be stopped constantly with people complaining about the new office policies.

    Signs: won’t make a difference for the same reason as listed above. For many residents, it’s not so much as lack of knowledge of the rules but more of an unhappiness and disregard of the rules. Closing the door doesn’t work. They just open the door and walk right in, and locking the door makes things really inconvenient for those working in the office.

    Changing layout and moving equipment to the front won’t wowrk because of room and logistics. Also, they won’t move the printer/copier/scanner/fax machine that everyone in the office uses just to make things easier for me. And there are things, like the computer to activate keys, that just cannot be in the front.

    There are two chairs in the waiting room.

    Waiting until the door closes to fax/make copies/etc. The issue is that I do those things for the residents (we charge them). For example: resident will come in and request to have something scanned/faxed/copied. I will go to the back room where the machine (that does everything) is located. While I’m gone, someone else will come in, not even wait 30 seconds, and walk into the main office area.

    There was no official memo about the policy to the staff/board member, but it’s a really small office. They are all aware of it. The problem is that everyone in the office, theoretically, wants me to keep people out of the main office area. In practice, however, it depends on factors like who the resident is, the workers’ mood, how busy they are, etc. Sometimes residents will get by me into the office, and it’s no big deal because staff/board member likes the resident and was happy to see them or was expecting them, etc. Or they’re upset with me because they don’t like the resident or are busy. Unfortunately, I have no way of discerning or knowing what’s what. And one would expect that if a staff/board member was expecting someone they would let me know so I can just let them go in. Unfortunately, more often than not, they don’t.
    Here’s something that happened this morning: J (who is the assistant property manager) asked me specifically to make sure I don’t let anyone in because she’s very busy. So when a resident came in and started going into the office, I tried especially hard not let her in, saying that I need to check with J. first, she’s very busy, etc. When the resident said she needs to have copies made, I said I could do that. When I went inside the office to make the copies, the resident continued going to where J’s desk is. Upon seeing the resident, J was very happy to see her. Resident: someone tried to stop me from seeing you. J: Oh! (laughs) Someone tried to stop you! (laughs). Basic summary: I was specifically asked to not let people into the office. And then the very person who asked me that acts in front of the resident/visitor like she never said anything.

    Final thought and question: As the receptionist and someone who is there to assist everyone else in the office, and therefore the lowest member on the totem pole in the office, is it really my place to go around asking the board and property manager if they can put up signs or ask the office staff (which consist of the assistant property manager, head engineer/building manager, and accounting manager) to let people who see them know they need to stop to see me first? It’s a really small office; they all know what’s going on and how the residents act. But I guess they figure it’s my problem.

    Also, I would like to add, that not every resident is so rude. Many of them are very pleasant. But with a building this size, the rude ones are plenty.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You need to talk to your boss and lay out what’s happening here. She needs to decide whether she wants to take this on aggressively with the residents or not, but that needs to be a decision that comes from her, and you need to ask her for specific guidance for what to do in situations like the ones you’ve described here. It’s up to her how assertive you are or aren’t in these situations, but you need to spell out very clearly for her what’s happening and have her tell you exactly how she wants it handled.

      1. Receptionist (OP)*

        ” but you need to spell out very clearly for her what’s happening and have her tell you exactly how she wants it handled.”

        Thank you for replying. I guess my problem is that my boss/manager knows exactly what’s going on. His office, usually open door, is right where J. sits and where the board members room (open door) is. So, unless he is completely stupid or oblivious, he sees/hears first-hand how unannounced visitors are being handled by J and board-members. But, for some reason, he won’t say to them: “can you notify those who see you to check with the receptionist.” Instead, he will come to me: “make sure you don’t let people in anymore.”

        1. Receptionist (OP)*

          Also, the manager himself won’t tell the visitors, who get by me to see him without being announced, that they need to check in with me first.

          1. Anonymous*

            I used to have backup. One of us would delay the troublesome ones by offering drinks and generally getting in their way, while the other hurries to let the boss know – if you’re standing squarely in front of the door / narrow corridor, it helps.

        2. V*

          Don’t assume that he knows what’s going on, though. I worked in a small law office where the managing partner sat with his door open all the time and his desk was actually visible before mine was (weird layout) and he was completely oblivious to EVERYTHING.

          Say something. You MUST say something. That’s the only way that this will be addressed.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yes, this. OP, you sound as if you’re so frustrated that you’re not willing to try what everyone here is telling you need to try — talking to your boss and being explicit, regardless of whether or not you think they should already know. You need to try this stuff — it’s the only reasonable path forward.

        3. KellyK*

          When he says that, that’s a good opportunity to explain to him what you’re currently doing and ask what he wants you to do.

          Him: “Make sure you don’t let people in anymore.”
          You: “Okay, what I’m currently doing is telling people that they need to wait and I’ll call the person they need to see. When I do that, they breeze right by me, and I’m not sure if I’m supposed to be chasing after them or contacting the person they’re here to see to give them a heads up. How would you like me to handle it when that happens?”

    2. Receptionist (OP)*

      It’s a really small office; they all know what’s going on and how the residents act. But I guess they figure it’s my problem.

      And “they” include the board and the property manager.

  32. Trace*

    Brings back fond memories, lol.

    I used to cover reception, and advice from my boss was to offer them drinks, and stick them in the meeting room just beside reception, and close the door. That keeps most of them from wandering around.

    All except for one of our suppliers who was especially aggravating in that he would just ignore my directions and walk in, and if the person he’s looking for wasn’t around, all the better for him – opportunity to flip through documents on various desks, company research materials etc etc. Whee!

    For him, I ‘helpfully’ escort him on his trip around the office and do my best to cover anything important left lying around. And if he touches anything, I put my hand on it and say “What are you looking for? Let me help you.” I’m happy to say he gave up after a while ^_^

  33. Melissa*

    OP, I appreciate that this is a difficult situation. There were a lot of really wonderful suggestions. It seems like you are completely overwhelmed and frustrated here, and so it’s hard to see it from an outside perspective. No one wants to manage the situation and looks to you to do it, so that they are not seen as unapproachable. In a small office where residents are known, no one wants to step forward and push someone out. They hired you to do that. Talking to the manager WILL put the ball back in his court. When these situations occur and yet you say nothing to the management, from their end it looks as though you aren’t trying hard enough, while from your end you think they are aware of everything. You need to speak up. Ask the manager if he can spare a moment. Then, tell him that you are having trouble keeping people back and would like to know what he would like you to do in case of situation A,B, or C (bring up recent instances here). You can say that you were wondering if a large sign in the front would work, a bell in case you are away, or some kind of barrier to the rest of the office space could be set up. You can note about the frequency of times you must make copies for residents and inquire if something can be done, such as bringing a copier closer to the front for you, or offering residents coffee, something. It looks like you care about your job performance and have proactively brainstormed ways to solve it.

    However, what I see here is that there are a lot of assumptions about what your employer will or will not do. Why not bring it up and let management SAY what they will or will not do? Either way, you will look good.

  34. Chris Hogg*

    I’d like to try to summarize.

    The manager needs to set a clear policy.

    The staff needs to implement the policy (that is, consistently follow through) and communicate the policy to all visitors.

    Regular visitors (who would be the ones who just barge in, as opposed to first-time visitors) need to be specifically informed of the policy, both by the receptionist and by the individual staff member / manager.

    If the above is consistently implemented, the problem will go away in a couple of weeks.

    If the manager will not set a policy – or if the staff / manager will not follow through with and communicate the policy – then the OP should not try to stop visitors from just barging in. It is no longer the OP’s problem. If the manager complains or tries to make the OP responsible, OP should simply say, “I’m sorry, but without a clear policy that the staff communicates to all visitors, and follows through on, there is nothing I can do.” And OP should keep saying this, over and over and over again, until either: 1) it becomes acceptable for people to just barge in; 2) the manager finally understands what needs to happen, and makes it happen, to control visitors.

    Again, without a policy and managerial / staff support, this is not the OP’s problem, and OP should not allow herself to be held responsible for – or take on the responsibility for fixing – something over which she has no control.

  35. Aga*

    Reception is sucha a great job. Don’t movfe to retail. Try to speak to your manager and he may send emails, or change system so people register visitors before the meeting. If you are feed up of this, just change your job to…another reception….don’t go back to retail.
    I use to work in different reception and all places are different. Some of them I left after 3 days, week or month. You just need to finhd a place you like. Good luck

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