I don’t want to cover the front desk anymore

A reader writes:

I work at a small (around ~100 employees) nonprofit; I started off as a receptionist sitting at the front desk (which I personally disliked). Seven months later, I made a lateral move to HR assistant (same department) and we hired a new receptionist for our small team.

Now, when the receptionist is on her lunch break or is on vacation or sick, we have interns cover the front desk. However, lately I have been asked to cover during times when none of our 12 interns are “able to cover.” I have mixed feelings about this — on one hand, I worked hard to get a job away from the front desk, but I don’t want to alienate my boss (who manages both the receptionist and me) during future reference checks. It doesn’t help that staff members stop by, stare, and question why I’m back at the front desk.

With almost two years at this company, I’m in the process of moving on to other HR opportunities that are less tied to front desk administration work. Any advice on how to deal (or say no to covering without burning bridges) the desk while I continue my job search?

I think you just need to get clarity in your own mind about what your role involves. It’s not unreasonable for the person in your role to provide back-up for the front desk when needed. You might not like it, but it’s a pretty reasonable and common arrangement.

Now, on some occasions — not many, but some — really not liking something can be enough to get you out of doing it … but generally only if (a) you’re fantastic at your job and highly, highly valued, (b) it’s not a significant piece of your job, and (c) there’s a reasonable alternative to you doing it (someone else is available to do it, it’s a reasonable fit with their role, and they won’t resent having it pushed off onto them). All three of these elements are really important; subtract one, and the request doesn’t go over well.

I don’t know if all three of these elements are present in your case, but assuming that they’re not, your only remaining argument for getting out of it would be if it’s interfering with your ability to get your work done and there’s no one else to do it who would be less inconvenienced. But since your letter didn’t mention that it’s interfering with your work, I’m guessing that’s not the situation here either.

All of which leaves you with the fact that this is part of the job. And so you deal with it the same way you deal with any other part of your job that you don’t like — by keeping in mind that every job has parts you won’t love, and that you do them anyway because that’s part of performing well. And by keeping in mind that when people assess your performance, they don’t just assess the parts you want them to assess — they assess all of it.

As for people asking why you’re back at the front desk, that solution is easy. You say, “Jane is at lunch, so I’m covering.” End of story. I doubt this is scandalous office gossip.

Longer-term, if you know you don’t want to ever be asked to cover a front desk, then work to take a career path that will ensure that’s the case. But you’ve got to be realistic about the fact that you’re not on that rung of the ladder yet.

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