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The Time I Was Told to Burn for the Good of the Company

August 11, 2013 1 comment

Burning-Man

Back when I was working my terrible receptionist job, I learned a lot about corporate culture. Namely, that nobody gives a single shit about you unless you somehow bring in lots and lots of money.

There were several low moments for me. One time, one of the salesmen on the floor lectured me at length for “not doing enough with my life” and told me my self-esteem sucked. I hardly knew him at all. Another time a crazy man came in through the door and blew past the reception desk. I was told to physically chase him down and tackle him, which I refused to do. At 5’0″, I didn’t get paid nearly enough to risk my life trying to trip up a crazy person who was possibly armed.

But one of the worst was when there was a fire in the building. Not a drill, but an actual fire, at least as far as we knew at the time. The alarm went off, and I gathered up my purse to begin evacuating with the others. My boss told me put my things down, stay put, and keep answering the phone (despite the fact that the alarm was so loud that it was impossible to hear who was calling). A missed call could mean a missed sale. He told me that there probably wasn’t a real fire anyway, so I should just keep doing my job. He stood over me as the rest of the employees filed out the door, watching me answer calls in vain, shouting, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you!” as the phone rang again and again. He finally left with the others, telling me to keep manning the phone unless I saw smoke.

As soon as he fled out of the door, I ran to a different exit, fearful that I was going to be burned alive on the 37th floor. I headed to the stairwell, and hoped he wouldn’t turn around and see me. He didn’t. I headed to a local cafe after reaching the lobby, and continued to hide from my coworkers. It turned out the fire was real, but small, and not on our floor.

After we finally got the all clear, I tried to run up first. My boss found me still at my desk, answering calls. As far as he knew, I stayed at my post. He gave me a little nod, perhaps impressed that I was willing to risk my life for the good of the company.

I hope to never work in a corporate office ever again.

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The Time I Worked as a Disgruntled Receptionist

November 11, 2011 4 comments

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.

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