Celebrating the Office Receptionist

Receptionists play a unique and crucial role in the office environment. Their work frequently impacts every single employee and keeps everything running smoothly for anyone who comes in through the front door.

Yet a lot of people will be surprised to learn that receptionists have an entire day put aside in their honour. For decades, the last Wednesday in April has been celebrated as Administrative Professionals Day, having started out way back in 1952 as Secretary’s Day.


You can probably imagine that this special day has taken on a whole new meaning than it had when it was first created. For a start, the term 'Secretary' has been dropped. This is partly due to the ever-evolving role the receptionist has to play in today's office environment, as opposed to the job description of the early 20th century.


Yet despite how much the job has developed over the years, one thing will never change: receptionists play an enormously valuable role in any working office.



According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, people with assisting and recordkeeping skills have been essential since ancient times, and have often had a significant function in government.


Did you know that the term secretary stems from the Latin word for secret? This indicates the level of trust the position involves. Think of the title of 'Secretary of State' and other government posts, and you'll start to get an idea of the gravity the role entails.


After the Industrial Revolution, the growing industries created a worldwide demand for office workers. Men were hired for construction and industrial and jobs, and the public school system began educating women to allow them to step into widely available secretarial work.


Then in 1870, the first mass-produced typewriters appeared, and the effect they had on the secretarial role was dramatic. The common perception back then was that women could type better and faster because they had smaller fingers than men. And as corporations became more aware of how important it was for them to show a 'social face' the perceived domestic skills women possessed were considered a huge advantage in the role of secretary.


The 'Secretary' first came to be considered a woman’s job in the 1920s. Clerking had previously been thought of as an entry-level position which could eventually lead to management. Unfortunately, the job came to be seen as a permanently subordinate position. This was perhaps due to the fact that women now dominated the role, but were not yet welcome into the managerial levels of the corporate world.


In 1942, the NSF (National Secretaries Foundation) was founded, and in 1952 the five-day recognition event was launched. Borne from the desire to attract and retain new secretaries, the week celebrated the loyalty and efficiency of the secretary by giving flowers, a tradition that is continued in many offices today.


The 60s and 70s then saw the growth of the women's rights organisations, and calls for more pay and better conditions for secretaries became louder and much more vocal.


Groups organised marches on National Secretaries Day brandishing slogans with 'Raises, not roses.' In New York, secretaries picketed the Olivetti Corp., whose typewriter ads projected secretaries as incompetent sex objects.


The word secretary began to decline in favour of other titles, such as administrative assistant. The National Secretaries Association started to offer training courses for secretaries with ambitions to move up into management roles.


The NSA changed its name to Professional Secretaries International, in 1981, and Secretary’s Week became Professional Secretaries Week. Then, in 1998, they changed their name again to International Association of Administrative Professionals, and in 2000, Professional Secretaries Week finally became what it is today, Administrative Professionals Week.


Administrative Professionals of the Future


With advances in digital technology, classic secretary tasks such as typing, filing, routing phone calls, transcription, copying, sending and sorting post, have become more or less fully automated.


There are also plenty of tools available which help admin professionals complete all the other tasks that have been added to their duties, like travel planning, managing the boss' schedule, and managing office resources. Even front of house staff whose roles have extended into accounting and Human Resources can now rely on apps for tasks such as onboarding, expense reporting, and enrollment.


Greeting and helping office guests, is the part of a receptionist’s job that’s arguably the most difficult to outsource to computers. But with new visitor management apps, these tasks can at least be automated.


But despite the cultural and technical advances that have impacted receptionists’ work since the 50s, a 2010 U.S. Census found that secretarial roles, including professional administrative positions, continued to be the most common kind of jobs for female workers.


In response to the findings, Ray Weikal, spokesman for the International Association of Administrative Professionals, had this to say:


"Predictions that major new technology will put an end to secretaries are common. We saw this with the invention of electric typewriters, the arrival of the personal computer, and the birth of the Internet. Yet each time technology becomes more efficient, the number of business increase. Companies continue will always need people who are capable of using these new tools."


Most businesses appear to agree. Even with visitor management software, the check-in process in office lobbies is recognised to be best used as a powerful tool when carried out by a capable receptionist, and still a great way to make a good first impression.


Can you remember the last time you surprised your front desk staff with a lovely bunch of flowers? Maybe it's about time you did. But don't forget the other ways of recognising your administrative professionals, such as presenting them with new additional apps and tools. In fact, they would probably love a  tablet-based visitor check-in application, for example. It will certainly make their job easier and will give them more time to concentrate on the myriad of other essential tasks they take care of every single working day.

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