County News Home Page
September 15, 2008
NACo Home Page
NACO Home Current Issue Back Issues Editorial & Advertising
County News


The Inner Receptionist

Who is often the very first human being directly encountered at your office? No, it is not the armed police officer or security guard, although increasingly it might be. It is the receptionist.

This person is the direct agent of your organization and your direct representative. This is the person who must be knowledgeable in order to provide help, advice and directions to people. She or he must be able to engage with the person standing in front of them or on the other side of the counter while talking on the phone, filing paper, monitoring events on the computer screen and dealing with two or three other people hovering in the background, including possibly you.

Photo courtesy of the H.R. Doctor

Doris Thomas (l) and Bernice Becher are receptionists who work for the city of Miramar, Fla., which is in Broward County.

For many visitors to the Human Resources Department, or to almost all other organizational offices, including building and permitting, a hospital or medical office, the behavior and the demeanor of the receptionist is a metaphor for the entire orientation of the organization. A rude receptionist who never makes eye contact, is busy trimming his nails, or chatting about dinner plans with another employee while the client is waiting and waiting. He or she conveys a negative message —  and a lack of focus, caring or respect for clients.

A message is also carried in a very positive way by the smart attentive receptionist who, with a smile on her face or a smile in his voice on the phone expertly represents the organization. This behavior creates the “wow experience” missing from many business encounters. It can do a great amount of good for the agency and for coworkers.

How do you want to be represented? Why is it that in many agencies the most dreaded assignment in an organization is the front counter receptionist? Why is it that often employees can’t wait for turnover so the newest clerical employee — the least senior one — can be stuck with exile to the Siberian Wilderness of the front receptionist area? That way, the more senior employee can move to a more comfortable and less engaging back office location closer to the coffee pot and the break room.

Something serious is lost when an organization does not regard the receptionist function among its very most critical roles. The best employee should be the receptionist. The most knowledgeable and the best trained, should be the highest visibility representatives of the top executives, including elected and appointed officials in government.

Being assigned to receptionist duties should not invoke a feeling of despair and lost opportunity, but rather a lottery win for gaining valuable experience of a very diverse nature in a short time. As a leader you have a duty to create the atmosphere of appreciation and recognition of the value of the receptionist’s function.

One of the critical but undervalued roles of the receptionist is to be the early warning system for the presence of an anomaly. An irate customer, a threatening or bullying employee, a whiner. Behavior reflecting acute sadness or depression is likely to surface right across the counter from the receptionist before appearing elsewhere.

Training in the recognition of anomalies and the proper procedures to deal with them safely, rapidly and respectfully is part of every receptionist’s duty even if the organization is foolish enough to never provide training for them. 

Inside each one of us, whether we recognize it or not, is also an “Inner Receptionist” who fulfils all of the duties already described in this article. In that sense, every one of us is a receptionist. We project to others, including our family members as well as coworkers, by our behavior and attitudes a sense of representing ourselves. The behavior of a bully, of a bigot or of another type of human with low emotional intelligence is a direct reflection of how we will behave at other points in life, especially during times of stress. Conversely, when we project to others a sense of calm, assertive respect and knowledge, we deliver a message of positive role modeling.

Our Inner Receptionist is our number one anomaly detector. In a shopping mall parking lot, late at night, when someone comes up to us and asks if we know the time, our Inner Receptionist can sense danger or a person in need of help. At work, the anomalies of dealing with a colleague in distress or a person acting out is something first observed by our own Inner Receptionist. Do we ignore that receptionist panic alarm or do we respond to it?

The more arrogant we are personally, the less likely we are to respond to anomalies with the result that we are more likely to suffer negative consequences or miss great opportunities. The “real” front counter receptionist in our office and the Inner Receptionist inside each of us, both desire to be appreciated and celebrated. Pay attention to both. 


Phil Rosenberg
The HR Doctor •


Job Market / Classifieds

Financial Services News

The H.R. Doctor Is In

What's In a Seal?

News from the Nation's Counties

NACo On the Move

Research News

Profiles In Service

In Case You Missed It ...

Tools for Tough Times
Write to Your Editor
Print This Page

Bookmark and Share
NACo Home  |  Current Issue  |  Back Issues  |  Editorial & Advertising
© Copyright 1996-2002 County News