Karly Thompson is the Front of House Manager at Publicis Groupe in Sydney, which was recognised as an Employer of Choice winner in the 2021 Australian Business Awards. She says she could fill a novel with all the different tasks and responsibilities she performs in the job.
And, as she told Women’s Agenda recently, the myriad of tasks she takes on in the role don’t necessarily fit into a neat job description, and it’s hard to sum up what the job entails in just a couple of words.
Often, others don’t quite understand just how diverse and wide-ranging the job is.
“When I try to explain what I do, a lot of people think ‘oh, you’re a receptionist’,” Thompson says. “But it’s so much more than that. I wear a lot of hats within the business.”
Thompson, who was recently selected as a finalist in the Australian Admin Awards, wants others to know how integral administration professionals are to businesses right around the country. As we’ve explored previously on Women’s Agenda, they’re often the ones who kept businesses afloat during lockdowns.
As a front of house manager, Thompson’s job is focused on who comes through the door at Publicis Groupe. She explains this could be anyone from a cleaner, a junior or senior staff member, a CEO, a media partner, a high-profile client, or a VIP. Whoever it is, it’s her role to welcome them, listen and understand what they need.
“Being the first point of contact for Publicis Groupe requires a lot of trust from every other person. We have 950 employees in Sydney, and they all trust me to make that first impression on whoever is coming through the door,” she said.
“It could mean setting up a staff member for a really productive day, because I’m asking the right questions, giving them the support they need to go into the day. Or it could be setting a high expectation of the experience for a client.”
“It’s really personal. A magical skill of mine is personally recalling everyone’s name. It could be a person who I’ve met one time and they’ll come in six months later, and I’ll remember exactly who they are.”
Often, this role means shouldering a high emotional load, as people tend to share not only the good, but also the bad and the ugly with her. This was something that Karly dealt with a lot after the first lockdown in 2020.
“Some people’s mental health wasn’t great,” she explains. “In a way, I was almost providing a counselling service for people coming back into the office. Being front of house isn’t just pointing people in the right direction. I really learnt to nurture what was the best way for people to come back to the office after a potentially tough time.”
The World Economic Forum’s The Future of Jobs report recently indicated that over the next few years, it expects to see a decreasing demand for administrative roles. But it also noted that many of the skills inherently held by admin professionals – like critical thinking, problem solving, working with people, technology use and active learning – will be some of the most in-demand skills in 2025.
This contradiction speaks to a wider issue in the admin space that often sees professionals continually overlooked and under-recognised for the important skills they perform in a business. Regularly, this is reflected in job titles that don’t match the tasks and skills admin professionals perform.
It’s one of the reasons Michelle Bowditch launched the Australian Admin Awards, a program to recognise those who are excelling in the heavily female-dominated admin industry. Finalists for the awards have already been selected, with winners due to be announced during a live ceremony in May.
As Bowditch explained recently, there are over 160 different titles for the positions available within the administration industry. But recruitment agencies, HR leaders, executives and organisations continue to undervalue the experience required for the roles they advertise.
Another issue is how little is invested in the career development and further education of admin professionals, who are often not asked to set professional goals by their employers.
It’s something Thompson had experienced up until quite recently, when she was asked by a new manager to think about where she saw her career heading.
“I remember when my current manager started, and she asked me what my career goals were. I stopped in my tracks and had absolutely no idea how to answer it. I’d never been asked that before,” Thompson says,
“I’d never considered moving up, or moving sideways, or pivoting into a different role. It was a really amazing moment to be asked that.”
One year on, Thompson has received a promotion, taken on more responsibility, and is learning a whole new skill set on top of what she was already bringing to her front of house role.
When Thompson received news that she had been nominated for the Australian Admin Awards, she said she didn’t believe it at first because roles like hers are so often undervalued.
“It’s such an important part of the business, but it can be extremely overlooked and understated,” Karly Thompson says.
“To recognise people in admin is so valuable. I was already in love with my job but once I received that nomination and had to talk about the value of what I actually bring to the Groupe. It really opened my eyes to the importance of admin roles. It’s so overlooked all the time.”