“I’m just a receptionist.” That was the response I received when asking someone recently what they did for work. Just a receptionist? It was a curious dumbing-down of the profession, without which many organizations would struggle to function.
The receptionist is often the first point of contact, the initial impression experienced by clients and business associates. It’s a crucial role. And yet the perception of receptionists, even among their colleagues, is that they’re way down the food chain, with very few lucky to escape the shit-kicker moniker.
To get around this conundrum, many companies have stopped calling their receptionists ‘receptionists’. They’ve instead adopted fancy titles such as ‘Brand Ambassador’, ‘Director of First Impressions’ and other identifiers closer to the cringe-worthy end of the naming spectrum.
Whacking a catchy name onto something or someone is superfluous. Of greater substance is what they actually do. Best-selling author Seth Godin has written in the past that an average receptionist is “basically a low-tech security guard in nice clothes”, making sure visitors don’t steal things or barge in unannounced.
An amazing receptionist, on the other hand, can be a clever marketing opportunity. In Godin’s view, the job should be expanded to include building relationships with guests, promoting the organization’s accomplishments, and making people feel special by offering snacks such as freshly baked cookies.
The trouble is paying them enough. If they’re really that critical, surely their pay would be commensurate with their contribution, right? Not in the real world. According to job listings compiled by Fairfax Media’s MyCareer website, receptionists earn an average of $45,000 a year, which is roughly 40 percent less than the average full-time worker’s income.
But what we know about wages and job satisfaction is that people tend to worry less about their pay the more they love their job. A great job doesn’t entirely discount a crappy salary, but it can negate it to a large extent. There are three ways this can be done for receptionists as per a study of 200 of them published a few years ago in The International Journal of Business and Management.
The first is “meaningfulness”, which is when receptionists feel as though their position is regarded as important. The second is “competence”, which is when they get to utilize their skills and abilities as much as possible. And the third is “influence”, which is when they’re consulted and involved during decision-making processes.
Some, however, would say job dissatisfaction is prevalent among receptionists irrespective of those three elements. In any of their manifestations – corporate, hotel, medical, whatever – receptionists are frequently known for coming across as moody and bitter. Especially, it seems, those who work for GPs.
Earlier this year, researchers from the University of Manchester wanted to discover why this was the case. Their study found it was true that medical receptionists could appear hostile, tense and somewhat like “dragons”. But this is because they’re protecting the vulnerable patients at the expense of those whose emergencies aren’t that urgent. In other words, their intentions are good.
So, if you’re an employer, how do you find a talented receptionist? Aside from the standard options of online classifieds and recruitment agencies, here are a few suggestions:
- Poach them. If you encounter a brilliant one somewhere, make an offer.
- Seek recommendations from your local college on the students due to graduate soon.
- Attend an event hosted by an industry association specializing in office assistants. You’ll find candidates there who are passionate and keen.
- Browse social media. But don’t limit your search to those with experience. Look beyond the role for anyone with a background in customer service.
- And consider those who’ve won a Nobel Peace Prize.
That last point isn’t as tongue-in-cheek as it seems. When Betty Williams won the Nobel in 1976 for her accomplishments in Northern Ireland, she was working as a receptionist at the same time. Proving well and truly that the profession doesn’t deserve the pejorative “just” before it.