All The Ways Working As A Receptionist Can Break You

The truth is, there are worse things than being a receptionist. Plenty. But few of them will involve sitting behind a desk and answering phone calls. Or listening to your boss’ meandering ideas and having literally no power to say anything except “uh-huh” (even when the words are offensive). Or putting yourself in the unenviable position of being both the least respected member of an organization and the first line of defense when the sh*t hits the fan.

As far as jobs that meet those three criteria go, being a receptionist is definitely the worst.

I’ll admit there are some perks. When I was the sole employee for an insurance broker, I served my own brand of justice by not charging fees to people I felt were just as ugly or as lonely as myself (there were a lot). A friend of mine — currently head receptionist at a prestigious firm — spends the majority of her day working on her novel and streaming Netflix account on the business’ worryingly fast Wi-Fi.

Still, the bad overwhelms the good. There’s a reason that temp agencies are always looking for someone to show up and be “an assistant” for a few days. It. can. suck. Here’s why.

Your bosses’ demands and personality will drive you insane.

One day I came home, laid down on my bed, and sighed for an entire hour. That’s not because my job was so terrible per se (I like answering phones! There’s a potential new friend on the other end of every call!), but because being the only henchman to a man who sold insurance sometimes made me want to give it all up and take a job herding sheep on a Norwegian island.

It’s not that all bosses are bad, of course, but if you work in reception, at least one will be mean, sexist, or bigoted. Or he or she could be a combination of all three. While mine would often be a delight—once he gave me a whole $20 bonus for no reason!—he would also sometimes drive me crazy. It doesn’t matter, though. Unlike other employees, your sole job is to listen to and be supportive. That means that if your boss wants to venture out and offer a few opinions on world events, you’re going to have to listen.

“If we were in medieval England,” he once told me as he watched two attractive high-school girls wander past the first-floor window, “both those girls would be ready for marriage.” Never mind the fact that in medieval England he’d also be dead by the age of 45. It’s just one of those things he would say.

Ask any one of your friends who’s ever been a receptionist and they’ll tell you a horror story that will make your toes curl.

You get used to being blamed for everything.

Is a customer mad? Is the coffee not made even though you’re not even scheduled to be there to make it? Did someone cut one of the partners off in traffic this morning? Doesn’t matter, it’s your fault, and you’d better get used to admitting that.

Listen, screw all those movies where a receptionist suddenly grows a backbone and starts standing up for themselves. That’s fantasy. It’s not that we don’t have a backbone (trust me, our coccyx are impressive), it’s that we want to keep our jobs. And sometimes, keeping our jobs means STFUing and letting the blame come down like the rain in Hilary Duff’s “Come Clean” video (her best work). Doesn’t matter if it’s not your fault. Just tune it out, nod your head, and promise not to do it again… Even if you never did it in the first place.

Customers will never be happy, and it will always be your fault.


Like working in retail, being a receptionist means that you may be the one who has to say “no” to any out-there demand a customer has. Sometimes it’s not even a customer — as in the case of the gentleman who tried to spray me with cleaning solution when I wouldn’t let him through to see the boss. Sometimes it’s a random stranger who you still have to accommodate because that’s your entire job title.

If you’re a receptionist/personal assistant, you may be the one tasked with imparting important and heartbreaking news to visitors. In this case, it makes sense why they’d be unhappy. But just like in retail, that sh*t will weigh on your very soul. Sometimes you’re lucky and have another receptionist to discuss it with. Sometimes you’re the only one there.

Hope your minimum wage starting salary can pay for therapy!

You speak as if your every word is being recorded for “quality and training purposes.”

Many sites with the word “hack” in their title will tell you that speaking as if you’re being recorded will help you stay away from bad words and mean thoughts when you’re angry. That’s true. What they won’t tell you is that if you actually do work a job where you might be recorded, you adopt the “being recorded” lifestyle as if you were living in Russia pre-perestroika.

“How would you rate the quality of your sleep?” I once asked a significant other after we had stayed at a hotel. “Were the pillows to your satisfaction?” That’s not because I’d been replaced by a robot from The Twilight Zone; it’s because I said things like that so often when speaking with customers that they’d become a natural part of my speaking pattern.

“Did I help you with everything you needed?” was another phrase that I’d use regardless of who I was speaking to. Listen, when you start talking that way to your guinea pig, it’s time to start looking for a job where no one will ever record you ever again.

Being “the face of the company” can be pretty awful.

Listen to any “employee welcome” speech and you’ll hear this thing about being “the face.” The bosses believe it, the customers believe it, and yet no one really knows what it means.

Sometimes it means that your employer can mess with your mind as much as they want. My boss, for instance, would like to remind me of what I should and should not wear and then change those rules whenever he felt like it. Once, he decided my shave wasn’t close enough and just sent me home. “Why didn’t you quit,” you might wonder? Because it was my job! (And we’ve been raised with a supreme fear of joblessness, one of the many ways that corporations control us and…let’s not get into it now.)

Also, sometimes people will write reviews about your company on Yelp and they will basically be about their interactions with you, how you dressed, and whether you smiled enough. And that will be what makes the review a 5-star or a 1star.

Your boss will never understand why you’d want to be anything else.

One day, I came in and my boss said “you’re two minutes late, you’re fired, and here’s your final paycheck.” I tried to respond, but he cut me off, “It doesn’t matter that you called and let me know. It’s the principle.”

I quickly began to pack up and get the hell out, but he stopped me, asking “don’t you want to open the envelope to make sure that the final paycheck is correct?”

“I trust you,” I said.

“Check anyway,” he responded.

I opened the envelope, only to be confronted with a sheet of paper that said “April Fool’s.” It was not April Fool’s Day.

“Am I still fired?” I asked “because I can go.”

“What a kidder,” he said. “Your job here is great. You just answer phones and file all day.” This is the same sentiment he expressed three months later when I really did quit.  Answering phones and filing are fun (at least I enjoyed it), but they can’t be your entire life.

Don’t let them be. Get out before you crack!