The Time I Worked as a Disgruntled Receptionist
For two years, I worked as the receptionist at a translation company, and was described by more than one coworker as “the worst receptionist we’ve ever had.”
It’s not that I was incompetent. The job required memorizing around 500 extensions and manning five simultaneous phone lines. I answered 600-800 calls per day, while also performing the 1001 other tasks given a typical administrative assistant. Conference rooms were booked, mail was sorted, guests were greeted, resumes were evaluated, etc.
It’s just that I was so obviously pissed off about having this job. After a few months, I didn’t even bother to hide my hatred for the position. A receptionist is taken for granted every day, while still entrusted with a lot of responsibility. I dealt with jealous spouses of employees who suspected them of cheating, and tried to care for the feverish children of the CEO. Telemarketers made up about 25% of all my phone calls, and would call repeatedly, knowing that I had to pick up the phone or risk being fired. Some would call 10+ times in a row, mocking me for hanging up on them, then eventually insulting me personally. One, taking a note from Anchorman, said, “You know, I’d like to take you out to dinner, then never call you again you WHORE.”
Clients would complain to you whenever something went wrong, as if you had the ability to change anything. I would regularly be cursed at, and frustrated clients would often threaten to have me fired simply for being unfortunate enough to pick up the phone. Many callers mistook me for a robot, and would just keep on repeating “Sales!” or “Accounting!” no matter what I said.
I had to ask permission to go to the bathroom, which would sometimes be denied, so I tried to drink very little during the day. While answering the phones, I also sorted through hundreds of pieces of mail each week, which left my hands black from the grime of the postal process. I was also tasked with cleaning the coffee machine each day, which irked me the most. Many fellow employees, who had no idea who I was despite the fact that I talked to them every day on the phone, assumed I was part of the janitorial staff. I would often be asked to clean up other messes around the office, including spilled soda and, once, something that looked suspiciously like blood.
Security in the lobby was a joke, and would frequently let up random people on the street who would try to sell me paintings, pens, or other crafts. Aggressive job-seekers would come into the office and demand to speak to an interviewer without an appointment. When I told them that nobody was available, which was true since HR was always booked days in advance, they would call me a liar and start ranting about how I was a Communist. More than one had to be escorted out by the aforementioned useless security guards.
If the job taught me anything, it was patience and how to develop a long fuse. After a while, I was jaded and difficult to rattle. Men rolled into the waiting room on roller skates, singing show tunes, and I took it in stride. Callers would scream at me, and the words would roll right off my back. It wasn’t personal, I realized; they just didn’t have anyone else to use as stress relief. I became a brick wall, giving no sympathy and expecting none. Employees requesting special favors, or asking me to clean up spills, were met with an icy stare and a slow blink. Surely they must be joking?
When the economy turned south in 2008, the company began to fire people left and right for “financial reasons,” despite the fact that it was posting record profits. Many of the coworkers I actually liked were laid off, never to be seen again. My job was safe because I was the only receptionist, but it was very hard seeing employee after employee exit the main conference room with tears in their eyes. Meanwhile, the CEO was getting calls daily from private jet companies interested in his business.
I answered the phones like a machine, only snapping out of my apathy when a caller seemed to be in genuine distress. But there was rarely anything I could do for them, and they would call five times in a row, begging for assistance. In a company of over 600 people spanning four floors, I couldn’t just grab whoever they wanted and force them to answer the phone. There was an intercom system I used dozens of times a day, but it didn’t reach all the floors, and my voice was frequently ignored. I couldn’t get up from the desk without permission, so I remained tethered to the phone for 9 hours each day, growing more and more cold with every passing week.
Before I actually turned into a block of stone, I realized I had to quit. Two years was my limit, and I submitted my resignation letter with the happiness of a new lottery winner. I would escape this place, to move on to hopefully bigger and better things. After all, anything had to be better than this.