I don’t want to cover the front desk anymore

A reader writes:

I work at a small (around ~100 employees) nonprofit; I started off as a receptionist sitting at the front desk (which I personally disliked). Seven months later, I made a lateral move to HR assistant (same department) and we hired a new receptionist for our small team.

Now, when the receptionist is on her lunch break or is on vacation or sick, we have interns cover the front desk. However, lately I have been asked to cover during times when none of our 12 interns are “able to cover.” I have mixed feelings about this — on one hand, I worked hard to get a job away from the front desk, but I don’t want to alienate my boss (who manages both the receptionist and me) during future reference checks. It doesn’t help that staff members stop by, stare, and question why I’m back at the front desk.

With almost two years at this company, I’m in the process of moving on to other HR opportunities that are less tied to front desk administration work. Any advice on how to deal (or say no to covering without burning bridges) the desk while I continue my job search?

I think you just need to get clarity in your own mind about what your role involves. It’s not unreasonable for the person in your role to provide back-up for the front desk when needed. You might not like it, but it’s a pretty reasonable and common arrangement.

Now, on some occasions — not many, but some — really not liking something can be enough to get you out of doing it … but generally only if (a) you’re fantastic at your job and highly, highly valued, (b) it’s not a significant piece of your job, and (c) there’s a reasonable alternative to you doing it (someone else is available to do it, it’s a reasonable fit with their role, and they won’t resent having it pushed off onto them). All three of these elements are really important; subtract one, and the request doesn’t go over well.

I don’t know if all three of these elements are present in your case, but assuming that they’re not, your only remaining argument for getting out of it would be if it’s interfering with your ability to get your work done and there’s no one else to do it who would be less inconvenienced. But since your letter didn’t mention that it’s interfering with your work, I’m guessing that’s not the situation here either.

All of which leaves you with the fact that this is part of the job. And so you deal with it the same way you deal with any other part of your job that you don’t like — by keeping in mind that every job has parts you won’t love, and that you do them anyway because that’s part of performing well. And by keeping in mind that when people assess your performance, they don’t just assess the parts you want them to assess — they assess all of it.

As for people asking why you’re back at the front desk, that solution is easy. You say, “Jane is at lunch, so I’m covering.” End of story. I doubt this is scandalous office gossip.

Longer-term, if you know you don’t want to ever be asked to cover a front desk, then work to take a career path that will ensure that’s the case. But you’ve got to be realistic about the fact that you’re not on that rung of the ladder yet.

{ 144 comments… read them below }

  1. COT*

    With the comments about gossip, the OP implies that working at the front desk is somehow disrespected, either by him/her or by the agency. It seems like OP is trying to distance herself from that “stigma” so she can move on to higher positions. Fair enough. But OP, if they really are asking the 12 interns to cover first, then you’re #14 on the list of people to cover the front desk. That doesn’t mean that they’re coming to you out of disrespect for your current role so much as desperation for someone, anyone, to cover.

    Doing things that aren’t in your job description is very common in small nonprofits–you can’t always afford to pay for every specialized need, so everyone ends up doing things outside of their assigned role from time to time. Like Alison said, it’ll be tough to get out of that unless you can make a really good case for how it interferes with your core duties (and that might not even be effective). If the “other duties as assigned” aspect of your job doesn’t appeal to you, then look for a different kind of company for your next position.

    If your boss really does agree that the front-desk work takes up too much of your time, ask if you can coordinate interns’ schedules to provide better coverage. Summer and fall are great opportunities to do this because you probably have lots of interns coming and going.

    1. Anonymous*

      See I think they are not asking the interns. There is no way all of those interns are busy during the breaks / lunch. Hell, OP should know right? He / She WAS the receptionist, so did the previous receptionist get pulled back to the desk? or was it handled by interns? So I think the point being that OP needs to talk to the boss telling her that she would appreciate it if the interns could be assigned to the desk rather than OP being the default choice, there you feel that you are not valued as an asst and that people are coming to her by default rather than assigning the desk to an intern which is how it was handled when OP had that job. Of course it is office gossip, it is happening enough for people to comment on it, therefore, I am sure makes OP feel like she isn’t valued in her new role and therefore must suck it up or risk being seen as not a team player.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        That’s kind of what I was thinking too. Twelve interns is a lot; there should be SOMEONE who can cover.

        1. Ariel*

          But the interns aren’t necessarily all there all the time. Heck, when I interned at a nonprofit, there were six of us, and we were rarely, if ever, in the office at the same time. Sometimes none of us were there.

          1. Ariancita*

            OP already confirmed farther down that they are in fact all there at the same time: FT interns and paid.

      2. Ariancita*

        Yeah, I took the scare quotes around the interns not being able to cover to mean that they either weren’t asked or that they really could have covered, but OP thinks the company is prioritizing the interns’ “busy” over the OP’s “busy.” Meaning, the inters’ work was more important than the OP’s. Which indeed could feel a little disrespectful.

      3. Kou*

        I could totally see it either way; when I was an intern, there was rarely more than one or two of us around at any given time. And when there were more of us there, the woman in charge of training us frequently got us all together to show us something or do a training or whatever.

      4. Jennifer*

        We usually have around 12 students working in our office, and I had to spend all of the winter covering for the phones every other day (my group is the “backup” in this scenario every other day) because “we’re out of students” or “they’re out sick.” Apparently yes, this actually does happen ALL THE DAMN TIME.

  2. Anonymous*

    Hi Alison,

    Thanks for the advice–deep down I know that I will have to most likely cover occasionally for the remainder of the time that i’m here since we are a small unit (and that I should look for work at a larger office as a HR generalist if I want to get out of FD duty in the future). Sometimes when juggling my assignments with the front desk duties (phone, people stopping by, buzzing people in, etc.), the FD duties take precedence– and dealing with people who walk past and actually say things like “I guess you’ve been demoted, etc” can be demotivating. But covering is a rare occasion luckily.

    1. Heather*

      If they walk by and say “guess you’ve been demoted” respond with “nope I’m so valuable and good (use whatever adjectives fit) at my job that I’ve been asked to cover the front desk as well. After all they don’t just want anyone up here”. Use a big smile.

      Front desk coverage is important. When it’s done badly it can really affect an organization. Don’t let others suck you into a negative headspace. Treat it differently.

      1. RLS*

        This! I often cover FD at my job as well (in fact, I’m going in on my days off over the holiday week to help cover shifts up there), and it’s a good skill to have. Most of my bosses have no idea how it operates (it involves reservations and cash handling) so I know that they really do count on me as a backup if something goes awry.

    2. Angry Writer*

      It’s shocking that someone would say, ““I guess you’ve been demoted.” THAT PERSON is the problem here, not the fact that you’re covering the front desk.

      1. fposte*

        In general, I’d say this comes under “Stupid jokey stuff people say all the time to receptionists” (and that’s a big category). However, since the OP has indicated that her office may have some underappreciation issues with support staff, it may well mean more here.

        However, I think Heather’s response is the best way–just because they think that doesn’t mean you have to buy into it.

        1. Jessa*

          Yes, but not calling those people on it somehow plays into the culture that “receptionist/front desk person,” instead of being very important to office flow and security, is some kind of demeaning lower class job that nobody should really want to do as a career and everyone in it should want to get out asap.

          This attitude needs to change. A GOOD receptionist, who really wants to be one, can really be an asset to the company.

          Of course a lot of people think “receptionist = entry level person.” This needs to change.

          1. fposte*

            Unfortunately, calling people on stuff usually just marks you as defensive–that’s why Heather’s response is so brilliant, in that it shifts the ground as you deflect the charge.

          2. Jennifer*

            Receptionist = entry level person BECAUSE most people eventually want to get out of being the first point of contact (ditto phone work). It’s pretty stressful and usually handed off to the lowest person on the totem pole because of that. Some people thrive at it, but not everyone. Extreme extroverts/very knowledgeable people, yes, but after being Front Desk Girl since the fall here….even I don’t think I qualify as thriving on it myself. It’s fine as long as nobody comes up to me with a weird problem…but that’s at least 1/3-1/2 of the people who come in here.

            My mother is the “front desk person” at her office and I think the bosses really don’t understand what she does and how their customers would be a lot less satisfied if she wasn’t there. She is the bouncy chipper extrovert who thrives on people (the rest of the office is…surly introverts, I suspect, from what I’ve heard), and I think that probably compensates for the rest of them not being friendly.

            1. fposte*

              See, I’m an introvert but I really enjoyed receptionist work (admittedly, it wasn’t a hugely busy front desk). As people here have mentioned, it was the authority and knowledge that I enjoyed–I was the information scientist and doorkeeper all in one! I knew where everybody was and what they were doing! They put me on additional tasks to embed me more into the organization, but honestly, I didn’t like those as much as reception.

              1. Anonymously Anonymous*

                I’m an introvert too and I loved working the front desk at past jobs. Being introvert does not equal ‘I hate talking to people’ or whatever common misconceptions. I’m just more reserved in my approach. I can deliver the same quality without being extra.

                1. KellyK*

                  I think there are various flavors of introversion, and it’s a separate thing from shyness (but with a lot of overlap). So there are introverts who would despise working reception and others who would love it. (Plus, not all reception jobs are created equal–how many questions you get, the types of things people need from you, whether the phone rings off the hook, etc.)

                  I would find working the front desk exhausting and stressful–not because I hate talking to people necessarily, but because I’m not usually chipper, so putting on my “customer service face” takes a certain amount of energy. The constant interruptions would also make it really hard for me to accomplish whatever other tasks I had.

              2. tcookson*

                I’m an introvert, and I didn’t mind working or covering the front desk back when it was my job to do so. My bosses really liked that when I covered the front desk, I was professional and pleasant, but I didn’t get into overly long chat sessions with people, as my more extroverted co-workers tended to do.

        2. Angry Writer*

          …good point. There is always that person in the office who tries to be funny but ends up being almost insulting, and is clueless the entire time.

      2. Long Time Admin*

        Some people think things like that are funny. They are clueless and rude, and to be pitied. While one’s first impulse is to slap them into next week, I would probably say something like “Hey, I saw your name on the reception break coverage list for next week!”

        I hate front desk coverage too, but I put my name on the schedule when my own workflow slowed to a dribble. I hoped every day that my name was on the next layoff list.

    3. Anonymously Anonymous*

      As someone who started at as a front desk rep and later took a position in accounting, I actually liked working the front desk just as much and I use to jump at the chance to to do backup for the front desk reps–though I wasn’t asked much because I was upstairs.
      I know my experience and likes are not the same as yours. In my current job i have one aspect of my job which I hate but alas I suck it up and do it. Don’t let the negative comments get to you.

  3. Liz in a Library*

    I wonder if there’s more to the interns not being able to cover (basing that solely on the OP having chosen to use quotes).

    I sympathize…it is insanely hard to be the public-facing person and have to be 100% available and friendly and everything else that comes with a job where you are the first contact for the public. Still, if this doesn’t happen often, I would try to change your outlook on it for the time that you are still in this position. You can control how frustrated you let it make you feel while you are looking for other alternatives (I wasn’t sure if you meant you were looking to move up in your company or elsewhere).

    1. OP*

      Recently, several interns have voiced their “dislike” of covering the front desk to me and have said “I hate covering the front desk” (during regular lunch breaks as well as when the receptionist is out of the office). A lot of our interns are returning to the workforce after starting a family, graduating college, etc. so they are not too keen on doing receptionist work at all (even though it was stated during the interview process). Several interns I guess feel comfortable revealing their desk-duty dislike to me. Plus, interns are equipped to complete their work while at the front desk (w/ a computer with access to the network). This may be assuming on my part, when I see interns walking around and chatting (in my eyesight) with other interns, and I see that two interns that are close with the receptionist are not scheduled to cover, I wonder if the receptionist is doing all that she can to ensure that i’m a last-resort option for the FD.

      1. Sarah*

        This points to bad management of the interns. We run into the same issue with staff members and volunteers. No one wants to sub at the front desk (understandable because you get none of your regular work done), but there has to be a fair system of rotating people, especially when we’re all on the same level of the heirarchy.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        In that case, it’s reasonable to go to the receptionist and say, “I’m supposed to be back-up only when interns aren’t available. I’ve noticed they sometimes do seem to be free when I’m covering. What’s the system for determining when to ask me for back-up?”

        And if the problem continues, it’s reasonable to ask your manager to intervene.

        1. Chinook*

          I agree with AAM. With 12 interns, there should be a rotation in place that means they are covering 4 or 5 times a month with you covering in an emergency.

      3. Elizabeth West*

        What a bunch of whiners. How lame! >:(

        With twelve of them (twelve!), there should be more than enough people to cover without dragging you off your work. I hope you find something better soon.

        1. AP*

          This drives me nuts – I’m pretty young looking and have a friendly “open” face, so occasionally staff assistants, freelancers, interns will complain to me about how they hate their job or are “really getting super annoyed at So-and-so over here.” At which point I have to tell them, hello, I might not have hired you directly but if my direct report hired you, or someone I report to (or if you’re an intern in general), bitching or gossiping to me is NOT likely to improve the situation!

        2. Emily*

          And with that many, if coverage days were evenly distributed or they rotated, each person could have to cover as few as two a month! (The receptionist’s vacation or sick days obviously require more coverage than a lunch or coffee break, but still.)

      4. Anon*

        It is VERY disrespectful of your manager to have a full time employee handling the front desk while interns are milling around. And, it trains interns that they are more important than the staff members. It contributes to the entitlement issues we have in the work place with millenials. Very poor management by your employer. They don’t deserve you.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s not inherently disrespectful. After all, many internships are supposed to be learning experiences and employers try to limit what they do to specific types of work.

          Plus, it’s entirely possible that when the receptionist needed coverage, the interns were in a meeting or otherwise not available, so the OP was called to the desk to cover. The interns could have become available later without negating the reasonableness of the original decision.

          And furthermore, not all interns are cut out for front desk duty, which is high profile. It’s not an insult to be given front desk duty over an intern, if your job is at the level of the OP’s (and it’s kind of insulting to receptionists to say it is).

          1. Long Time Admin*

            However, it would help interns learn that it’s called “work” and not “play”, and we all have to do things we don’t like to get our paychecks. It might also teach them to have some respect for front desk employees.

  4. Just a Reader*

    I would definitely be checking on the interns–how can nobody out of 12 people be unavailable to cover?

    FD duty blows and I don’t blame you for not wanting to do it anymore. Maybe it’s time to take your HR chops and move on.

    1. COT*

      Since this is a nonprofit, I would expect that many/all of the interns are PT since they’re probably not being paid. There may be 12 interns, but they may not even all be in the building at once.

      1. OP*

        The interns are paid over $10 an hour, and the majority work FT (we have few student interns…most are graduates). But yep, I understand not being available for a meeting/not being in office–but I don’t think that’s the case.

      2. Elizabeth West*

        It doesn’t matter; it’s poor scheduling on the part of whoever is managing those interns. That person should know it’s part of their job to back up the receptionist. I just can’t get over that there are twelve of them in such a small company and they’re still coming to the OP to cover the desk.

  5. km*

    Also, if you continue to work for small non-profits, it may be hard to find a career path that completely frees you from having to cover the front desk. I’m a program director and part of my small non-profit’s senior management team and last week I covered our front desk for seven hours!

    1. COT*

      At my last nonprofit, our site had NO front desk person at all. When there weren’t volunteers covering the desk, every staff person, from top to bottom, took turns answering the door and assisting visitors–when the doorbell rang, whoever was available went up to answer it. It wasn’t based on seniority or title at all. Yes, it was sometimes frustrating to be pulled away from my own projects, and sometimes if I was the only available person I got interrupted a lot, but it was part of the job. Some days I liked it, some days I hated it, but there was no getting out of it.

      1. km*

        Yup, that’s pretty much how it is at my org. Each team takes turns covering the front desk for a week, and if there’s no volunteer coverage, your team is responsible, and my team had the bad luck to get the week when our most reliable volunteer was on vacation. I always sign up for more hours than I ask my staff to sign up for, because a) they’re direct service advocates at a non-profit, their jobs are already hard enough and b) they work directly with clients and my job’s more administrative, so it’s a looooooot easier for me to get work done while also covering the desk. And it’s important to me to demonstrate that I don’t think I’m too good for a crappy job I’m asking them to do.

        Particularly if the OP is going to keep working in non-profit, I do think there’s a correlation between people who have successful career paths and people who don’t make a fuss about occasionally getting stuck with crap all-hands-on-deck tasks.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      For what it’s worth, good management doesn’t mean “everyone pitches in on whatever’s needed.” It means figuring out whose time can best be allocated to it. It doesn’t make sense to have your highest-salary person at the front desk and away from their other work if there are other options. Work should be done by the lowest-level person who can do it well, so that other people can spend their time on the stuff that only they can do.

      1. khilde*

        This is one of the most valuable concepts that I learned while researching information about how to delegate. The concept that if there are two people equally capable of handling a task, and Person A is paid less then it just makes good business sense to have the lower paid person do that duty. It’s not a value judgment on the person’s inherent worth, either, which I think is where this concept falls apart for many people. It’s just numbers, isn’t it? Or am I seeing this wrong?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s exactly right.

          It’s also about comparative value — it might be egalitarian to have everyone pitch in to cover the front desk or stuff envelopes, but it’s not a good use of resources. Your budget will go further if you have lower-paid workers stuff envelopes while your higher-level people stay focused on the higher-level work that only they can do. It’s not about pulling rank but about responsible use of limited resources.

          1. J*

            Agreed. I’m asked to cover the front desk on occasion (I’m a recent grad in an entry level position) and while I don’t love it, I would be concerned if I saw our Director up there in lieu of myself. I don’t feel like I’m undervalued or disrespected on the few times I have to do this. I understand that our department needs to stay open and I’m the most logical choice for the coverage.

        2. Anonymous*

          I’ve had numerous support position and while I agree with this, I also feel torn because its create an uneven flow of duties for the person paid less while holding them accountable for tasks that can range from high to low. Hope that makes since, because this was a huge past gripe of mine. In the past, one of my managers revised an evaluation and added all most all tasks of the person senior to me plus my original. After I questioned the changes the new evaluation disappeared. I didn’t mind being a support but I do take offended to being overworked and underpaid.

  6. College Career Counselor*

    While I understand that this is not a preferred task and that the OP worked to get out of that role, sometimes the culture of an organization is that you cover the front desk even if that’s not in your job description. I’ve sat at the front desk when necessary (I was directing the office at the time), and I considered it a part of being a team player and doing what was needed (rest of the staff was setting up events, running workshops, or in a mandatory meeting). Now, I had a fairly small non-hierarchical department with a high demand for services, so it was important for us to be able to take on additional work (cross-training!) when people were out sick, had a family emergency, were at a conference, etc.

    I understand that not all work environments are like that, but to me the OP comes across as feeling that the front desk is “beneath” him/her. If possible try to re-frame this duty “serving the need of the organization” and that may help in the meantime as you pursue other employment options or work to develop a new intern schedule.

    1. OP*

      “I understand that not all work environments are like that, but to me the OP comes across as feeling that the front desk is “beneath” him/her.”

      I don’t mind covering the front desk, but this is how I somewhat feel in my office because other (program-based) staff members can be snooty at times and not understand our support staff’s work. I look at the receptionist role itself as a necessary and honest work, but even to this day, I will have co-workers (even other Assistants) say things to me like ‘How’s that ADMIN work going?” or “I thought that was the receptionist’s job”, etc. (as if it’s less important than their job). Our employees are very well educated, but not very humble at all.

      1. COT*

        Yeah, it definitely sounds like your org has some cultural issues. You probably just have to keep doing what you’ve presumably been doing–letting their comments roll off of your back, and laughing to yourself because you know how much work and skill a front-desk job can involve.

  7. smallcoworker*

    I work at a small company and one of the cons (if you can even call it that!) is that you have to help each other out. I personally like it because I feel much more ownership in my role at my company that I ever did at the large fortune 500 company that I used to work at. I don’t think it says anything about YOU but rather where you work (and the fact that they don’t have a lot of people to pinch hit).

  8. Eva*

    It’s funny that this issue should come up right now because I’m in the middle of something similar.

    Four years ago I was a receptionist at a chocolate teapot company and I’ve since completed school and am licensed as a chocolate engineer.

    I am interviewing for an entry level chocolate engineer position with the same company and am worried that, since most of the same people still work there, I may be viewed as someone who knows how to do receptionist work and there may come a time when my prospective boss could say, “Hey Eva, the receptionist is on vacation and there’s no one to cover. We’re going to need you up there for a week.”

    I wonder if there’s any way I can ask about that in my interview?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’d wait until you have an offer and then say, “I know coming back to a company you’ve worked at previously, it can sometimes be hard for people not to put you back in the same role. I’s assuming that I’d be treated like every other engineer, not expected to fill in for the receptionist, etc., but I thought it worth asking about that specifically.”

  9. km*

    What was the system for covering your duties when you were the receptionist? Did the entry-level chocolate engineers get asked to cover or was it other staff? I would imagine they’d stick with whatever coverage system they’ve been using since you’ve been gone, not change the system if you return.

    1. fposte*

      I was wondering that too. I also think that the interns who are dodging desk duty may get out of desk duty but they’re not doing their reputation any overall favors.

  10. W.W.A.*

    I work at a very small nonprofit and we don’t have a receptionist; technically we don’t even have a front desk. We all have to cover the main phone line. Sometimes this is how it works.

    I understand that if you’re in a big office with a hierarchy it can seem beneath you to cover the front desk, but like I have always told interns, stuffing envelopes is not just “intern grunt work” because if they weren’t here, I would be doing it – eventually you WILL have a job where there aren’t interns around and you actually will have to stuff envelopes.

  11. VictoriaHR*

    Since you’re already looking outside the company, I’d just suck it up and do it without complaint. Don’t burn that reference bridge if you can help it.

  12. Justin*

    Alison, I think you forgot to mention three other ways of getting out of doing something you don’t want to do at work:

    1) Be bad at it/be incapable of doing it. There’s a reason why the boring data entry tasks are not given to Mike, even though he has the same duties as you; it’s because he doesn’t know how to use Excel and never will. And there’s a reason why all the last-minute projects come to you instead of Jim; Jim is slow at turning things around and you are quick on your feet. As they say: The reward for doing good work is getting more work.

    2) Complain and whine about it regularly, but not enough to get fired. Your manager will get sick of hearing from you and dump the task on someone else so they don’t have to hear about it anymore.

    3) Overly complicate things. Whenever you get a new project, ask twenty followup questions as if you are just trying to clearly understand the task but are really just stalling/acting as a huge obstacle in the way. If anyone acts exasperated, be defensive and say you are just trying to do the best thing for the company. People will come to know that working with you is a chore and they’ll direct their projects elsewhere.

    I have had plenty of coworkers who do either (or both) of those things and have successfully steered all “grunt work” away from their desks. I have no idea what work they actually do all day.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      2 and 3 only work with bad managers — with good managers, they cause Very Bad Things for you.

      #1 can as well, depending on the details, context, and the rest of your work.

      1. Brandy*

        I couldn’t agree with Alison more. When I have had employees who do any of those things they didn’t stay employees for long. Just sayin’.

        1. Just a Reader*

          This is terrible advice. The way to get out of a task you don’t like is to rise above it, not suck at it, especially when it’s not something as highly skilled as other roles.

          1. twentymilehike*

            Haha … yes terrible “advice,” but I think I feel some sarcasm. Makes me think the point was, “suck it up.” If it’s only for a break or two a day and it doesn’t interfere with the OP’s regular work, then these alternative options kind of put it in the “okay, this isn’t THAT bad” category. Sometimes pleasantly doing something you hate, even when other people should be doing it, you end up looking like a stellar employee that people will vouch for.

            1. fposte*

              Yes, I thought it was a sarcastic assessment based on what Justin has been seeing in practice.

              1. Brandy*

                Rereading it, I see the sarcasm. I read it quickly earlier and didn’t pick up on it at that time.

                Yes, I have definitely known people who were successful at these tactics and it is always frustrating to watch.

  13. Jenna*

    With 12 paid, full time interns that are supposed to be in line to cover the front desk, it should be very very rare for the OP to be covering. If that isn’t the case, it sounds like some of those interns have found a way to disqualify themselves from being picked.
    If the other folk in the office look down on that job as much as is indicated ( asking if the OP had been demoted, etc. ) then I can see that anyone looking to move up in that particular office culture would try harder than usual to avoid working the front desk.
    Some offices are places where everyone pitches in on any task that needs doing, because it is understood that it all needs to get done. Other offices get caught up in roles or status, and things actually don’t get done if the only people available consider the job beneath them…or not the job of anyone in their department. Phones continue to ring, and doorbells go unanswered because someone thinks it isn’t their problem.
    I have worked in both kinds of places and I prefer the sort where everyone pitches in. I even mind answering phones less if I know that everyone is doing their part, and I am not the only one chipping in.
    I wonder about the culture of the place and what method the interns are using to disappear off the list of people to cover the front desk?

  14. Job seeker*

    Am I the only person that would not have a problem with this? When I work I do not have a problem helping out where I am needed. I do not think anything is beneath me and if it is not my favorite thing to do, well that is just part of the job.

    Actually, I am one of those people that love front-office receptionist work. I enjoy people contact and I have always somehow ended up helping a receptionist in most jobs I have held. I have been the receptionist too.

    I think you need to remember unless you are in management or been there longer you may have to pitch in doing things that you don’t especially like. You need to work as a team. I do not care what someone else does or doesn’t do, I will help out. So what if the interns are acting like this. Remember, you have a permanent job there, they don’t.

    1. Been There*

      “Am I the only person that would not have a problem with this?”

      I would and I would not. I was a receptionist for 2 years in a government office. I had to talk to a lot of angry, mean people on the phone more than once. People made me cry more than once. I busted my behind at my job to get a promotion, and even in my next two roles, I was expected to be a back-up receptionist, which was still better because I wasn’t chained to the front desk all day and I could plan my own day better.

      There’s nothing wrong with being a receptionist, and I don’t think I am *above* it, per se, just that I have been there, done that and and I have gone on to the next step.

      I might equate it to someone who has teenagers not wanting to have a new baby. It doesn’t mean they didn’t love being brand-new parents, just that they have moved beyond that time and don’t want to deal with the specific stresses of being pregnant, giving birth, and caring for a newborn again.

    2. Mike C.*

      Maybe. Do you enjoy having to put off more important projects so you can be constantly interrupted by a ringing phone?

      1. fposte*

        As Kelly O. notes, however, those projects aren’t necessarily more important than the clients, customers, public, etc. who are trying to reach your workplace. The chopping and changing may not suit everybody’s work style (there’s a reason why “receptionist” tends not to combine well with focused work), but that doesn’t mean the non-reception duties are more important.

        1. Mike C.*

          It doesn’t mean that they aren’t either.

          At what point does someone finally get to move on, and have the respect of their peers for doing so? I did janitorial work for years in high school and college, and I’d be rightly upset if my boss told me to set aside my projects to go clean toilets.

          The OP took the job in HR to do HR work. This idea that she has to sub for the front desk person when it appears that there are plenty of others to do the same is plenty irritating. This irritation doesn’t take into account all the classist bullshit she’s dealing with from coworkers which is most likely hurting her future at this particular firm.

          Look, I get helping out, being a team player and all that business cliche. But some point a person should be able to do what they were hired for, not work that they purposefully moved out of, and then be treated like crap for the privilege.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            But it’s really not a huge stretch at a small organization to have the HR assistant provide backup to the receptionist. It’s extremely common. It ends when you move up to a position where it no longer makes business sense to borrow your time in that way.

          2. fposte*

            What I’m saying is that you seem to be buying into that whole “receptionist = unimportant” thing, which is really unlike you. While organizations can certainly send mixed messages (and it sound like the OP’s is), if they thought it was more important for the OP to use that time to do non-receptionist work, she’d be doing the non-receptionist work.

            That the OP has a personal history with the receptionist position and particularly feels like she’s backsliding by sitting there is a separate issue from the importance of that position’s work. She’s not being “treated like crap” by being asked to do a perfectly respectable job at the same level of her current one for the occasional lunchtime. I support her right to find out what’s going on with the weirdness with the interns and seeing if the backups can be organized more according to stated plan, but if there were no interns, I wouldn’t find it unreasonable that she’s asked to cover phones sometimes, because junior staffers get called in to cover for other junior staffers.

            1. Mike C.*

              As a former janitor, I’m not buying into that at all. I know all too well the assholes that look at you like you failed at life and you’re beneath them and so on.

              It doesn’t help that all the male interns are finding ways out of this work as well.

              1. fposte*

                Sure, but you’re talking about receptionist work as taking time away from the “important” stuff, and when I say that is also important stuff, you’re not buying that either.

              2. Job seeker*

                Mike, if someone makes you feel like you have failed at life like you said you need to remember, “No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Wasn’t that said by Eleanor Roosevelt many years ago? Smart lady that Eleanor.:-)

            2. Mike C.*

              What I am buying into however, is stated by Kay below:

              The problem is, at a certain point it can really interfere with your advancement. ESPECIALLY for women employees. If you’re constantly seen (literally–actually witnessed) as “the help,” so to speak, there will be colleagues and clients and other members of the organization who have real trouble perceiving your higher-level work and function, and who may fail ever to take your other work and other role seriously.

              It’s great that you and I see the job as “perfectly respectable”, but that’s not good enough. Until she and others like her can do the work without having that negative impression added to her professional reputation, she has every right to complain.

    3. Rana*

      I would, because I am terrible at office phone management. I can handle my own line, and my own voicemail, but having to deal with things like transferring calls and putting people on hold? The results are not good, let’s just say.

      People in person are fine; phones, not so much.

      1. Jennifer*

        I second this. The instructions for transferring calls are TERRIBLE on our phones, the buttons are labeled incredibly unclearly (from phone to phone, no less) and I was barely, barely trained on this before they made me be the phone bitch. I drop calls constantly.

        I recently found out that they train the student employees a LOT MORE on the phone than I got trained. It’s pretty ridiculous!

    4. Elizabeth West*

      I don’t think that’s the issue here; it’s that the interns are supposed to be covering it and they are not, for whatever reason. If the OP has other work to do and is constantly being called to cover the desk rather than the interns doing their jobs, the problems are not hers, but management’s. There are twelve of them. They should be able to schedule coverage.

      I used to work at a place where I was doing carpet cleaning scheduling and was supposed to sub for the receptionist ONE day a week. Well, she started bailing all the time (probably because of the Sales Coworker from Hell) and they sent me up there more often, until I was basically doing her job more often than mine. It was a big factor in my decision to quit that job. Which I did.

      1. Rana*

        Plus I would imagine that the work that the OP’s doing – and which gets disrupted by having to take on front desk duty – is more valuable than whatever projects the interns are working on.

    5. Kay*

      The problem is, at a certain point it can really interfere with your advancement. ESPECIALLY for women employees. If you’re constantly seen (literally–actually witnessed) as “the help,” so to speak, there will be colleagues and clients and other members of the organization who have real trouble perceiving your higher-level work and function, and who may fail ever to take your other work and other role seriously.

      1. OP*

        This is another fear of mine…I do not want to be typecast in an administrative role, as my interests lie elsewhere. So I try to get involved in our company’s strategic operations since I’m very interested in a management position in the HR field.

      2. Mike C.*

        Holy crap, this is a really great point.

        Hypothesis: are the interns who are avoiding this work predominantly male?

        1. OP*

          It’s a 50-50 mix; but the interns that openly complained to me were male. Our female interns are somewhat more willing to help without being prodded to death.

          1. Anon*

            Exactly. Companies will often ask female workers to cover phones or do other admin tasks because of our collective cultural history. Women have to be very careful not to get typecast into that role. Once the OP was promoted, she should not have to cover the FD. It is demeaning and it lowers her in the eyes of the organization.

            1. Jamie*

              She wasnt promoted, the move was lateral.

              I don’t understand the typecast part. If you run an ad for a receptionist or admin role a large percentage of the applicants will be female. So if women are applying for those jobs, and getting hired for those jobs, there should be no shame in doing the tasks required by those jobs.

              I think the bigger problem is how many people consider working the front desk is demeaning. That perpetuates he stigma more than anything else.

              1. Job seeker*

                I think maybe I have a different take on things because I am no longer trying to prove myself in the workplace. I do not look down on anyone and never have. I have always loved helping others and although my husband is in management, I have always been in support roles.

                I have been in support roles in the workplace and as a wife and partner and mom. I think everything is important. I think the front-desk is important because you are representing the whole department/company. Answering the phone is important because again you are the first contact. Sometimes it is just the way you look at things.:-)

                1. Jamie*

                  Support roles are critically important. In manufacturing if you aren’t on the line in production or in sales you’re support – even the CFO. Couldn’t run a business of any size without the carried support staff from accounting to reception to IT without them.

                2. OP*

                  There’s nothing wrong with Admin work, but I’m ready to move on to duties with less admin work. For people like me (became a receptionist to pay the bills after college) typecasting is a problem because it was (for me) meant as a temporary position, not my life’s work. In order to advance, I will have to start fresh at a new, larger company with separate reception coverage. But I’m glad to have a temporary fix with better intern scheduling initiated by myself.

      3. Jamie*

        Setting aside managerial stuff I’m “the help” too. When email is down and I have to fix Exchange, or set up a static ip through the firewall, install software, or map a network drive. Those tasks are no more glamorous than answering phones, buzzing people in, or ordering copy paper – but they need to be done.

        A lot of us in SMBs have tasks which could be used to denigrate our positions by this logic, but they are things hat need to be done and someone has to do them. When our OM who works reception the phones go on night ring and we all take turns picking up – including the CEO and President.

        For me the problem is that yes, some work is lower level but no e of it is shameful.

  15. Rich*

    I understand where this reader is coming from. Definitely frustrating to try to be “moving on up” but getting sent back down to the front desk…if even just to cover. I’d venture to say that the “stares” aren’t stares at all and that (s)he’s projecting her own thoughts and feelings onto the faces of co-workers. I know there’s a term for this. Just can’t think of it!

    I also agree that if the boss is responsible for managing her/him and the front desk person, it’s only fair that sometimes there will have to be front desk coverage. And most importantly, always make the boss’ job easier. If the front desk is covered, that’s one less thing he or she has to worry about it even if it inconveniences you for a little while. That’s still adding value.

    However, if it’s affecting your ability to get other stuff done that your boss needs, that’s a great conversation to have.

    Always add value. And when your ability to add it is compromised, speak up.

  16. Been There*

    I’ve been a receptionist and a back-up receptionist, so I can understand the issue here. The only thing that ever worked for me (in both positions) was creating a schedule for coverage. So the receptionist doesn’t have to “ask” people to cover, and that the coverage rotation is fair and not taking any one person away from their work for too long.

    1. BGirl81*

      Same here! The schedule also really helps in that you can save the work that can easily be done at the front desk, i.e. typing and get through everything that can’t be done there before or after. For what it’s worth, I’m a C-level EA and I’ve always had to cover. The OP may find later in her career that sometimes it’s like a vacation to be away from her own desk phone :)

  17. Ash*

    OP, who is asking you to cover the front desk? From one of your replies it seems like it’s not your manager, but the receptionist herself who is asking you. In that case, I would suggest the next time she comes over to ask, you refer her to your manager. Only your manager should be assigning you work, especially if that work is outside the normal scope of your daily duties.

    I had to do this in my current position as the person who held it before me would do a certain type of work for all of the other divisions (which would take her away from her very time-sensitive work), and they expected me to do the same. I spoke with my supervisor and our mutual manager, and they both agreed that it was unacceptable that it happened in the first place. There was a lot of push back from the other divisions for a while, but I stuck to my guns and referred them to my supervisor when they tried to get me to do their work for them.

    You need to have a sit down with your manager regarding this, but in the mean time I would refer the receptionist to them as she is not the person who should be telling you what to do.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It sounds like the manager has determined that this will be one of the OP’s duties, and the receptionist is coming to her because of that. If I’m wrong and the manager would be surprised to learn this, then yes — but it sounds like this is happening with the manager’s blessing (broadly, at least, if not in the details)

  18. Kelly O*

    I have to admit, I’m kind of rankling at the idea that helping out by answering phones and covering the front is a demotion, and that it’s something to cause a fuss about. (I’m trying to remove the personal from that and respond as neutrally as I can.)

    If you’re in a culture that devalues the administrative support staff, it might be worth saying “nope, not demoted, Jane’s just gone to lunch.” If it continues you could potentially add something about helping your nonprofit present the best face forward it can (and if that helps your ego while you’re up there, hang on to that.)

    The receptionist is an important part of an office, and a bad receptionist can do a lot of harm to a company’s reputation. (Whether that person is a dedicated receptionist, a member of a team of admins who pitch in, or the person catching things while the receptionist is gone to lunch.)

    Think about it this way – at a nonprofit, you never know who may be calling or coming in the front door. That person could be your next biggest donor, a media person who could make some awesome connections for you, or simply someone interested in volunteering. By putting someone with a good presence up front, you’re maximizing your chances of having a positive initial interaction, and building a positive reputation for your group.

    If an intern is really that openly hostile about the idea of answering the phone or covering the front, think about the impression they’re leaving your callers and visitors with, and whether or not that’s worth the hassle. It might even be something to bring up in discussions of future interns and how they’re assigned duties in the office. If it’s non-negotiable and presented as part of an overall training plan for giving them a chance to truly see how the organization works and how their eventual role would fit in that, there is sometimes nowhere better than the front desk.

    Just a thought, from an admin/receptionist/go-fer who has done it all in all sorts of organizations.

  19. Kevin*

    I have a Master’s and still cover the desk occasionally. The desk isn’t even related to my job – but it’s part of being a team player. You’ll get much better recognition from your boss if you accept it with a smile.

  20. Lily in NYC*

    Sigh. Another one that thinks she is too good for the job she accepted. OP, you still have the word ASSISTANT in your title. It is completely normal for assistants in other depts. to cover for reception when necessary. If you want to be taken seriously and get off the admin track, then you need to do your job well without complaint first. Why don’t people get this? I can’t tell you how many admins we have here that want to get promoted to be a project manager (it very rarely happens). The ones that complain about or act like they are above the admin work are not even considered for promotion because they aren’t seen as team players.

    We have one person that accepted an admin job to get “her foot in the door”. She tries only to work on meaty projects and disdains any of the admin work she is given. She is more than qualified for a promotion (due to her education and resume) but she’s not going to get one because of her attitude. They are just waiting for her to quit at this point. She’s sure she’s going to get promoted this summer and she is going to get the shock of her life when she gets a mediocre review.

    1. Chinook*

      Lily, you highlighted the part that has been niggling at me. The OP was hired as a receptionist and shortly after made a lateral move. In other words, she was never promoted out of it and may have even been moved laterally with the intention of regular reception coverage. In other words, they are asking her to do what she agreed to do. If you don’t want to do this, then you have to leave the job. Otherwise, you need to do what you agreed to be paid to do.

      1. Lily in NYC*

        Exactly! It’s not like she was promoted to a non-admin job and then still asked to cover the front desk. And I had to laugh at her update here in the comments – she said she is rarely asked to cover. So those 12 interns usually do take care of it and she is upset about something that doesn’t happen often. Which shows me it’s about her thinking she’s above it and not about the actual work.

        1. OP*

          All that I can say is that our office is set-up for a team of 10-15 (summer peak) Interns to cover, not FT employees (as it was while I was a receptionist). And yes, I may be covering rarely, but if there are multiple interns available at that exact time, then they should be covering, period.

          However, if my boss (not the receptionist) were to tell me to cover for whatever reason (because it’s sunny outside, whatever), guess what–I will be running to the front desk, simple as that. But that’s not what’s occuring here.

          Whether I love receptionist work or hate it does not matter– sitting at the front desk distracts me from my assigned duties, and I think the receptionist isn’t finding coverage effectively.

          If you want to know my feelings on receptionist/admin work (specifically) again, it’s honest work, but I do feel that I have “outgrown” the work (that’s why I left the receptionist position)–with almost two years as an assistant, I do feel like it’s time for me to focus on transitioning into less administrative work–thus my statement about starting to job hunt again for a generalist position, then management, etc. Was looking for a short-term scheduling system fix from Alison and commenters with my letter.

          1. V*

            But you haven’t outgrown it, at least as far as your title is concerned. You made a lateral move. It may be true that you have other duties that you need to concentrate on and that “assistant” means more than just “front desk”, but you seem to be thinking of your title change as a promotion when it wasn’t one.

      2. OP*

        “may have even been moved laterally with the intention of regular reception coverage. In other words, they are asking her to do what she agreed to do.”

        Chinook, there was never an agreement (during or after the interview process) of me covering the reception desk; me covering the desk is a fairly recent “unofficial” development and is done to help the receptionist. Interns are the primary contacts to cover the front desk in her absence. When I was a receptionist, interns covered me.

        And for the record, I never said there’s anything wrong with administrative/receptionist work (did not mean to offend). It’s honest work. That said, I do not enjoy it and am working towards a position (different company, no growth potential in our small nonprofit for HR unfortunately) in which I will not be asked to cover the desk.

        My main concern with writing the letter was how to ensure that the interns are being scheduled effectively so that I can focus on my work.

        I spoke with my boss and provided her with a scheduling solution; she agreed with me, and I can be content in knowing that I didn’t just complain, I provided a workable solution for all as well.

        1. Chinook*

          OP, if I misread the intention of your letter, I apologize. Maybe I was influenced by the headline, but I got the impression you were asking how to handle being asked to cover reception when you no longer wanted to, not how to get the interns to do their job (which would be the job of their supervisor). I am glad to hear that you approached your boss with the workable solution, but that information was not implied in your letter.

          1. OP*

            Sorry, but yes, I just spoke with my supervisor this afternoon after reading the initial comments from commenters.

    2. twentymilehike*

      At first I thought this comment was going to be harsh, but then I sat back and really agreed. I can absolutely relate. It’s not necessarily about “moving up.” It’s about moving into the role you want to be in, whether it’s admin or not. And you don’t usually get where you want to be with a sh*tty attitude. People notice and reward good attitudes.

      As a side note, I really do hate that so many people look down on people in admin or receptionist roles. Just because something isn’t their cup of tea doesn’t mean that it’s not a legitimate, respectable job. Some admin’s are paid very well, and deservedly so!

    3. OP*

      Lily, your comment is curiously not reflective of my situation (although I agree with the general idea of doing work that’s asked of you well).

      Not sure if this is relevant, but my reviews are and have been positive (I have a good relationship with my boss), and complaining once in my almost 2 years with this company does not equal being a constant complainer who will never be promoted again. It’s not about me feeling like I’m “too good” to do the work at all…just last year I was at the desk full-time (and I did it with a smile until I accepted a new position that suited me better within the company). Plus, just like many, I too was an intern in 2011 that had to go on coffee runs for the office.

      Maybe in your organization, all of the assistants (we have interns) help at the front desk (that would be fine if my company was set up that way, as well). But we’re not. When the receptionist comes to me with little notice instead of multiple (available) interns (because she’s friendly with some of them, or intimidated to press them for coverage, etc., it becomes an issue for me thinking that she’s not doing all that she can to help me make the best use of our department’s time and efforts).

      During my time at the front, I made sure that the interns knew that coverage was a part of their responsibility–for a year I was always able to get coverage for the times in which I would be away. I file and do other “assistant-type” tasks without complaints–but if there’s a better way to help the company function by using interns, then why not?

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        When the receptionist comes to me with little notice instead of multiple (available) interns (because she’s friendly with some of them, or intimidated to press them for coverage, etc., it becomes an issue for me thinking that she’s not doing all that she can to help me make the best use of our department’s time and efforts).

        For whatever it’s worth, this is a different issue than the one that was in your letter. If nothing else, it’ll help to get really clear in your head that THIS is the issue, because it will impact the way you handle it.

        1. OP*

          Hi Alison, yes, I should had added that to my initial letter, but I agree that the quoted is the actual primary issue.

    4. Mike C.*

      Another one that thinks she is too good for the job she accepted.

      It would help if the rest of her office and society at large wouldn’t treat service and administrative staff like garbage. We constantly tell our kids “you better make something of your lives or you’ll end up flipping burgers or answering phones” and then you wonder why people don’t want to work those positions?

      Until we treat people who take these jobs better, they’re going to want to move on to bigger and better things. It’s only natural.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sure, but while you’re in that job, you do the stuff that that role is tasked with. You can want to move on to something else, but while you’re agreeing to fill the role of X, you do the lower-level tasks associated with X. (And it’s very common in a small organization for a role like the OP’s to include back-up front desk coverage.)

        1. Mike C.*

          But “being treated like shit by coworkers” or “being held back from future promotions because upper management can’t envision a female receptionist as a future manager” is not part of the job description.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            We have zero knowledge that “being held back from future promotions because upper management can’t envision a female receptionist as a future manager” is happening. Agreed that the coworkers sound like jerks though, but I can’t imagine that’s limited to this one situation.

    5. OP*

      Lily–question, it sounds like admins at your workplace want to be promoted, but they rarely advance within the company. I know you said that some are disqualified because of their perceived “attitudes”, but what about the ones who do everything without complaint? Why, in your opinion, are they never going to make it to project manager status (since, again, it’s a rare event for all admins at your company)? Just curious, assuming they’re qualified.

  21. BCW*

    I understand this completely. I work at a fairly small software company with no real front desk. We essentially have 5 departments: sales, marketing, implementation (training and support), IT, and content development. Everyone here has their own direct line and plus an extension that goes with the extension. But of course there is a general number too. It used to be that when a call came through it would just cycle through to everyone until someone picked up (I’m not sure how many rings or anything). Well earlier this year it was somehow decided that instead of cycling, all calls would go to me and my co-worker (the implementation department). It was very frustrating, because essentially it was like being told our time was the least valuable and could be interrupted. The reason given was that it would probably be support related questions, which we would answer anyhow. The reality is that very few of the calls are support related, they are mostly marketing or sales related. So we end up just transferring people or giving direct lines out. It’s extremely frustrating. And its not that I feel like I’m “better” than answering the phones, but I just feel like its a bit disrespectful to have my work interrupted all the time and yet everyone else gets off scot free. I’m trying to figure out a good way to talk to my manager about it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      How about: “When we first set up this arrangement, we’d assumed that most of the calls would be support-related. It’s turned out though that very few are and most are marketing or sales related. I’m spending a lot of time on calls about issues I can’t help with, and it often makes it hard to focus deeply on something. Can we revisit this arrangement and see if there’s one that makes more sense?”

  22. Joey*

    Hey Op,
    You might want to rethink HR as a career path. In almost every facet of HR except for executives there are receptionist type duties tied to nearly every job.

    And if you have a problem with the status of the duties or how you’re percieved think about the following:
    1. You risk being viewed as someone who doesn’t want to pitch in.
    2. Your boss probably trusts you more than interns.
    3. While you’re doing it youre being overpaid for the work.
    4. You risk coming across as insecure

    1. OP*

      Currently I perform general administrative work well (it’s part of my regular duties away from the front desk)–but, my issue is with the receptionist “penning” me in to cover her when those whose primary job is to cover the front desk (interns) are not covering–This isn’t something that I complain about nor verbalize…but it sits in the back of my mind that I could be serving the company in a different way (which is why I wrote to Alison on finding a workable solution for everyone).

      I would do well (IMO) as an HR Analyst (creating statisical reports based on specific metrics and benchmarks), which could be a viable next, not-so-administrative focused step that employs my strengths.

      For me, going into HR has never been solely about the paycheck but about the type of work that i’m doing as well. Reading these comments, I realize that (for me) as opposed to being an in-office HR representative, I might work best with a professional services/consulting firm exclusively offering HR services (everyone in the office provides HR services to companies).

      1. Julie K*

        Or find work at a larger company. I was surprised to read the comment that most HR people also work at the reception desk. I work at a huge company, and the HR people do HR. In the building I work in, there is a rotating security guard at the front desk on the main floor, and if there is a front desk on any given floor of the building, there are receptionists who were hired to be receptionists. The two departments are not linked in any way, and I’m not sure why they would be (but then I’ve never worked in HR, so I’m probably unaware of how these kinds of things work in smaller companies).

        1. Julie K*

          “rotating rota of security guards,” I mean. The security guards, themselves, do not rotate (as far as I know)! :)

          1. OP*

            Yes, with larger companies I always see a security guard and receptionist pairing near the entrance, and those in HR tend to work on HR duties only; this is my first time working at a nonprofit and (having worked in both) I personally prefer the size and separation of departments that large corporations tend to offer. But I can totally see how those working in nonprofits would have to “pitch in” in other areas.

            1. E*

              I work at a non-profit and I’ve never worked at a non-profit that actually had a reception desk for what it’s worth. I’ve definitely seen the attitude of everyone pitching and been part of that, but at my current workplace, our HR does HR. So not all non-profits are the same either.

        2. twentymilehike*

          First, “rotating security guards” would, I think, be fairly entertaining.

          And second, Or find work at a larger company. Oh how I dream of this …. It makes sense. There are a lot of perks that come with working for a small company (I am one of 8 people in my entire company), however, having to multi-task so much does actually take away your focus from one specific career area. On the other hand, I’m really good at a lot of miscellaneous jobs now!

          I’ve read through pretty much most of the comments by now, and think the OP might be feeling a little bit like I am … just ready for something more.

    2. UK HR Bod*

      Like others below, I’m also pretty surprised at this. I’ve never done reception as part of an HR role. As you note, I’m overpaid for the work, which would make it frankly very bad business sense to use me. I’d also be bad at it, which would also make it very bad business. Admittedly I’m reasonably senior, but I haven’t always been, and this has never been expected of me as a specialist in a specialist role. I have seen HR admin cover reception – but that’s because of the admin element as all admins provided cover, not the HR.

  23. Joey*

    If the receptionist is asking you to cover Id approach it from a prioritization standpoint. You might tell your boss that the receptionist has been asking for your help, but that while you helped her out in a pinch you’d like her help coming up with a more long term solution that won’t delay or impact the tasks you are working on.

  24. Cassie*

    Is it possible the non-profit would prefer someone more seasoned (than interns) cover the front desk? For example, if an intern doesn’t know how to handle 50% of the situations (and wouldn’t be expected to – not having authority or whatever), maybe it makes more sense to have someone that *is* knowledgeable cover the front desk?

    I’ve had to cover the main secretary’s duties when she was out, or when the previous one quit and they hadn’t hired the current one. I didn’t mind it that much, although I don’t enjoy ordering catering and stuff.

    If it’s impacting your work, definitely bring it up. But if it’s only because of the attitudes’ of others, I would just speak up when people make comments about demotions and such. Some people just comment on everything (worse when they think they are hilarious) and don’t realize what they are saying.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I can’t think of any time that I’d prefer to have an intern at the front desk than a staff member. Interns don’t know how to handle most of what comes up at a front desk, aside from signing for packages.

      1. E*

        If they’re full-time and they’re decent and motivated (sounds like they might not be) I think they could easily learn. I’ve worked places where interns and coops provided backup reception support and one place where as a coop I was the person answering phones for the whole office. There were a few situations I didn’t know how to deal with in the beginning, but I learned quickly.

  25. Been there/done that*

    12 interns your NP sounds pretty large to me. I know how difficult the front desk can be as I covered it when our receptionist was off and worked it until she came in. This difinitely put me behind on my work sometimes but I also think this was beneficail with allowing me to learn things that related to my org that I wouldn’t have learned sitting in my office. I do agree the interns should be doing more of the phone coverage as it will provide them with this experience as well. This position definitely requires you to be able to multi task and sometimes as a college student, one doesn’t do this at a fast pace. My questin for you OP is, do you cover phones several times a week or a couple times a month since you are the last resort.

    1. OP*

      This is my hang-up, the receptionist is relying on me more frequently to cover while interns are available (I’ve covered three times already in May), and I was afraid that it would increase as interns call out for lunch coverage, etc. But I talked with my boss and proposed a new scheduling procedure.

      For some reason, the receptionist is determined to have me cover the desk (even when interns are available). It doesn’t help that past clients will come in while she and I are both near the desk and will say “Congratulations, I see you ‘got away’ from the desk! Whew!'” My workplace is very classist across all levels, and I think it’s her way of ‘putting me in my place’. Yes, my workplace is a bundle of fun.

  26. Anonymous A*

    I think situations like this can sometimes point to how oblivious certain managers can be, especially if they don’t understand the complexities of your actual job. I work as a mortgage underwriter and have been requested to double as a front-line customer service representative. Impossible. I don’t think any mortgage underwriter could get their job done while answering phones, actively assisting customers simultaneously.

    Regardless of career path, a bad manager can always wreak havoc on your true responsibilities, and do a very good job of decreasing job efficiency.

  27. OP*

    I have an update–so the receptionist is leaving, and my worst fear are being confirmed…they are considering moving me up front permanently again. Luckily, I’ve started seriously job hunting, but I feared that “just dealing with it” would get me into this situation.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Hmmm. I would take this as a signal that they don’t value you in your current position as much as they valued you in your old one — not that accepting the earlier situation caused this. Agree that you should start job searching though. Sorry to hear this!

    2. Jamie*

      Since they are just considering it and it’s not a done deal you could present a case for why the company would be better served having you do HR tasks not at the front desk than moving you to reception.

      If you present reasons why it makes good business sense to keep you where you are (leaving your personal inclinations out of it) you may be able to sway them.

      If they want to scale back on staff and have you work from the front desk it may not get you what you want, but there is absolutely no harm in trying.

      1. OP*

        Yes, it’s a “cost-savings” plan I believe; I will try to persuade them if possible, but since I have an interview next week and am days away from my two-year anniversary with the company, sadly it’s probably time for me to go.

  28. Emer*

    You are being asked to cover the front desk for two reasons, 1. you have done it before and know how to, and 2. Your Manager manages the front desk. Use it as an opportunity to network :-)

  29. Anonymously frustrated*

    I work for a satellite office of a large law firm. I am a legal assistant with a 4-year degree and a post degree paralegal certificate. There are three legal assistants in the office, including me, and a file clerk. The other legal assistants have their own offices and, ironically, so does the file clerk, but because of who I work for I’m “stuck” at the front desk. When the file clerk was hired (one year after me) I “was certain” I would be moved from the front desk, but no. It’s very annoying when people come in and identify you as “the receptionist”. The other legal assistants don’t have a degree like I do or paralegal certificate. No one understands that I do not want to be identified as “the receptionist.” I have talked to who I work for and he wants whoever works for him to be right where I am, at the front desk. To me it would be like an attorney getting getting a law degree and passing the bar, and still be identified as a “law clerk”. So, yes, it is extremely annoying and frustrating to be at the front desk when others are calling the shots. By the way, my title with the firm is “Legal Assistant”, not receptionist. We have another satellite office as well and the assistant at that front desk is annoyed by this as well.

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