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Six coworkers in clique all went to school together

Dear Office-Politics,

I’m in an uncomfortable situation that is causing me stress. I work with about 6 people who all had relationships before they got the jobs, they all went to college together and the manager seems to only hire his friends.

There was a new hire last week who was a close friend of one of my co-workers. I’m older than them by a couple of decades and am worried that if there are ever any layoffs I’ll be the first to go regardless of performance. Also it’s hard not to feel like an outsider all the time. Any suggestions?

Outsider


OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY DR. RICK BRANDON AND DR. MARTY SELDMAN

dr. rick brandon
dr. marty seldman

Dear Outsider,

Your feelings are understandable and reasonable. Most of us want work to be a true “meritocracy.” Meritocracy to us means that age, skin color, gender, ethnic background, percentage body fat, etc. shouldn’t matter. The people with skills, results, work ethic, and good ideas should have job security and advance.

Unfortunately most workplaces are not pure meritocracies. Sometimes an organization can have those values but someone may work in an area where cliques, favoritism, the “halo effect,” or political skills wind up mattering more than competence.

You sound like you are in one of those situations where the inner circle or core network of people have strong bonds. Your concerns about being treated fairly are genuine and as you’ve indicated very few people enjoy feeling like an outsider. What are some practical things you can do?

1. External networking/market research
Even though you are not contemplating leaving it may give you a stronger sense of control of your life if you investigate other opportunities. Definitely maintain your external network because you may need it. One of our favorite sayings is “the day you need a network it is too late to build it.” Network can link you with opportunity as well as give you a sense of your “market value.”

2. “If you can’t lick’em, join’em”
You do not have enough power to fight this clique or point out some of the decisions that might not be fair. Even though you are decades older, our advice would be to pick one or two people and try to build closer relationships. Do you have things in common? Can you help them with some of their challenges and concerns? Is there a chance to work on projects together?

You probably won’t be part of the clique but this will reduce your outsider status and could lead to fair treatment in the future.

3. Add Value
Even political organizations with cliques and favoritism need people who produce results and add value. Look for opportunities to make your self valuable to the team. When you do this make sure that they see “your handprint” on the work product or ideas.

Someday the organization will make a decision about you and you want to increase the chance that it is an informed decision.

4. Alternatives
We think that you can be successful where you are using some of these tips. However, if you decide to move on check out opportunities carefully. All organizations have politics; there are very few pure meritocracies, and none have repealed the laws of human nature.

There are differences though. Some organizations have made progress in moving to a fair, objective meritocracy. These are the best workplace for people who are willing to work hard and are confident in their abilities.

Thanks for writing to Office-Politics.

Warmest regards,

Rick and Marty

Rick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. Co-authors,
Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success

cover of Survival of the SavvyRick Brandon, Ph.D. and Marty Seldman, Ph.D. are Co-authors, Survival of the Savvy: High-Integrity Political Tactics for Career and Company Success. Dr. Rick Brandon is CEO of Brandon Partners. He has consulted and trained tens of thousands at corporations worldwide, including Fortune 500 companies across a variety of industries. Dr. Marty Seldman is one of America’s most experienced executive coaches. His 35-year career includes expertise in executive coaching, group dynamics, cross-cultural studies, clinical psychology, and training.

Publication note: This letter was originally published in 2006. We are republishing the best letters from Office-Politics and integrating them with our blog format.

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