I work for a small office in a large organization. I like my job and I believe in the work we are doing. The problem is, I don’t like my co-workers. Or rather, they don’t like me.
I work in a male-dominated field, so I’m used to being the odd woman out. That wasn’t a problem early in my career when I was a junior employee working with people my own age. But my work has been good and promotions have brought me into areas dominated by older workers. As a result, the cultural differences have become much more noticeable.
The men I typically work with now don’t really DO anything that I can point out—they just give me a perpetual cold shoulder. Their days are filled with private jokes, communicated via email or social messaging, that I’m not part of. When I make jokes, they fall flat. In some cases, I think these men don’t “get” all of my cultural references (never a problem with people my own age). But sometimes, it feels passive-aggressive. I mean, I don’t “get” their obsession with sports, but at least I’m polite enough to make small talk or laugh at jokes. I don’t stop and stare them into an uncomfortable silence.
After trying far too long to be accepted, I came to believe that these older male colleagues are probably—though maybe unconsciously—uncomfortable with a somewhat younger female (15 to 20 years’ difference) succeeding mid-career at the level they’ve worked their whole careers to achieve.
In other words, I’m the Peggy Olson of my office.
It’s 2014. I’m neither interested nor equipped to spend my life waging office warfare.
Should I stay in this job I like, with these people I increasingly don’t, grit my teeth and wait 10 years until these “old guys” start retiring? How do I resolve this without getting promoted past them—or at least avoid this problem in my next job?
PS: The answer can’t be “talk to the boss.” The boss—whom I otherwise like working for—has made it clear that employee socializing is not his department. He simply expects us to work as a team. If I’m complaining, then I’m the one who’s not fitting in and that makes me the problem. Or maybe he’s right—I’m not sure I know anymore.
Not a Kid, Not a Baby Boomer
Dear Not a Kid, Not a Baby Boomer,
I think you should look for another job.
If your boss wanted to address your grievances it might be different. But look at the situation. Consider the possible ways it might improve and think about their likelihood:
1) Your boss changes and decides to take an active interest in team-building. An outside consultant takes you on a team-building retreat to the Idaho wilderness and your co-workers’ attitudes suddenly shift. They see that they’ve been unfair and realize what a marvelous and talented person you are.
2) All on their own, without any outside consultant or team-building exercises or pressure from management, your co-workers change and make an effort to include you.
3) A catastrophic event pulls you together as a team.
4) You magically and unexpectedly gel as a team for no apparent reason.
5) Your boss promotes you over their heads quickly and you don’t have to deal with them anymore.
Are any of these events likely enough that you would stake the next 10 years of your life on them? The last one is at least something you could work toward. But in none of these cases is there a clear path to an achievable goal. It’s all out of your hands.
Here are two things you can do in the here and now. 1) work to get promoted out of this boomer network and 2) at the same time, conduct a vigorous job search.
Then, when you find something that looks promising, if you still haven’t been promoted, have a frank conversation with your boss. Ask for what you want. If you don’t get it, then take the other job.
Now, on a personal note, intuitively speaking, being expected to work as a team with people who obviously don’t like you, and having no support from your boss will take its toll on you emotionally. You don’t need that. What you need is to feel secure and respected and liked. Furthermore, the higher you go in this company, the more dependent your success will be on the subjective assessments of your superiors. The more important it will be to belong the network. So it just feels like you should get out and seek employment at a place where you fit and are happy.
After all, what did Peggy Olson do?