Office and Admin Professional Development

Workplace Etiquette 101: Respect the Receptionist

Written by Miranda Pennington

The Pollyannas of the world have no trouble being nice to just about everyone, but sometimes the rest of us have to prioritize the humans we have the capacity to treat with courtesy. Always prioritize being polite to the receptionist. Let me say it again.

Always. Prioritize. Being. Polite. To. The. Receptionist.

Otherwise you may find yourself frozen out, passed over, or otherwise barred from the gates of wherever you are trying to enter that had the sense to hire someone to keep out the rabble.

Soteris Phoraris over at CareerAddict has some more specific tips to motivate you to remember which side your paperwork is buttered on, to mix a metaphor.

They Get it From Everyone

People who don’t know better assume that the person hired to be the first public point of contact is actually low on the totem pole. This means that the receptionist greeting you at the door may have already dealt with a dozen entitled, pushy, condescending clients or customers by the time you show up. If you aren’t polite and gracious, they may let loose the backlog of exasperation they’ve been storying up all day—and you’ll have only yourself to blame.

They Are Probably Control Freaks

The thing about receptionists is they pretty much know everyone and have an integral role in every office process that exists. I was once temping in a fancy Connecticut town for a few months, and at first I assisted in various departments of the Town Hall—a few weeks of efficient filing and transcribing and they asked me to take over processing applications for and distributing parking permits. I had to learn the current system for processing applications for parking permits from the town receptionist. I thought I was being eager, respectful, and helpful, but she was so mortally offended that a “kid” was being brought in to assist that she took early retirement and quit, leaving me with approximately 2 hours of training and no experience whatsoever. I had to figure out all the filing systems she’d built over the years by trial and error. It was not fun. Let receptionists have their systems, people. Find your place in the system, do not expect the system to adapt to you.

They Could Be a Future CEO

Even if they don’t later decide to rise through the ranks, you never know when someone is working a day job to finance their career as a brilliant playwright or starving virtuoso. The person fielding your calls and passing along your messages today will probably remember you once she’s climbed up the ladder—whether she thinks of you fondly or maintains a vengeance vision board in her corner office is really up to you.

How You Treat Them Actually Says More About You

Ever catch yourself taking out your own angst on a total stranger? Treating others lower in the hierarchy badly shows your own lack of self esteem. Just like waiters, dogs, and kids, how you treat people hired to provide service or creatures incapable of defending themselves is an indicator of your character. There are a few subway commuters I owe apologies to because they happened to be walking slowly or on the left, or stood in front of an empty seat. If I’d thought they were possibly receptionists, I would have been more polite.

The Receptionists Test: The Difference Between Hiring and “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Receptionists tend to have very close working relationships with their immediate supervisors, which could mean anything from middle management to the CEO. If you’re interviewing with a potential new employer and have an opportunity to be professional and friendly with the receptionist, TAKE IT. Odds are the hiring manager you met with is going to ask their assistant what they thought of you. They can say, “He seemed really great” or they can say, “Are they casting an American Psycho reality show? Because that guy was the worst.” The power is yours.


Best case scenario, your messages get through faster, you spend less time waiting for appointments, or you don’t have to photocopy your own documents. Depending on the industry, the office, and your relative position, being on good terms with a receptionist can have serious perks for your worklife. Learn their coffee order, take note of the communal candy, and remember pet/child/spouse names. You know, be a person. And this time maybe there’ll be something in it for you!

Why You Should Be Kind to the Receptionist


About the author

Miranda Pennington

Miranda K. Pennington is a freelance writer and editor whose work has appeared on The Toast, The American Scholar, and the Ploughshares Writing Blog. She currently teaches creative nonfiction for Uptown Stories, a Morningside Heights nonprofit organization. She has an MFA from Columbia University, where she has also taught in the University Writing program and consulted in the Writing Center.