I have been in my job for a little over a year. I am approximately 15 years older than most of my colleagues. I am younger than my supervisor and her supervisor. They are both very happy with my performance and I love what I do.
The problem is that the group I work with (8 people) is made up of early to mid-twenties (except for one my age) who are gossipy and attached at the hip. They eat lunch together nearly every day. They discuss those not at lunch. When confronted with an issue at work they discuss it as a group and fear voicing their opinions in meetings (two queen bees rule the roost). I can handle most of this just fine. I stay out of gossip and focus on performing well. The issue for me is that they have the mentality that there needs to be group socialization outside of work. I have never felt pressured in my nearly 20 years as a working professional to socialize with an entire group outside of work. I’ll respect you and work with you at work but don’t want to sacrifice time to be with people who I would never socialize with in the “real world.”
What’s the solution? Do I create more separation by not participating in these outings (dinner, mini-golf, bowling, etc) or do I have to suck it up and attend every once in a while? I don’t think my boss or the vice president realize the atmosphere that this creates in the office. Do I tell them that new hires instantly feel pressure to conform and don’t realize that other offices don’t function this way (many have just graduated from college). I have just declined an event with an excuse of previous plans (they had made a decision as a group before sharing the date, time, location with me). I would love to tell them that this is work not a fraternity or sorority but know I need to be more tactful. Help!
No Honey Bee
OFFICE-POLITICS REPLY BY JENNIFER GLUECK BEZOZA
Dear No Honey Bee,
First of all, it’s great news that your supervisor and her supervisor think highly of your performance. And it’s also good news that you focus on your job and “stay out of the gossip,” as you say. Ultimately, you’re doing the right things and can feel good about your contribution and integrity.
That being said, building relationships with colleagues, even those you wouldn’t choose to socialize with in the “real world,” (as you say), is a necessary responsibility and a politically savvy choice.
It is indeed, unfortunate, that this “clique” operates so tightly and exerts so much pressure on you (and others) to socialize outside of the office. It’s also unfortunate that particular group members fear the “queen bees” and hold back their opinions in meetings for fear of upsetting the “popular” voices in the group. This is emblematic of one of the most common dysfunctions of a team—avoidance of productive conflict — as referenced in Patrick Lencioni’s bestseller, Five Dysfunctions of a Team.)
Here are my recommendations for you.
1.) Look to get to know individual “group” members on office time. While the clique seems to move in a pack, make an effort to get to know each individual when you can. For example, drop by each person’s work area and say hello in the morning. Ask them about their plans for the weekend and/or if there’s anything interesting they are working on right now.
2.) Find something you appreciate about each person. Even if you don’t want to socialize outside of work, I would encourage you to find one thing you appreciate about each person, whether it is a talent, skill, interest or hobby, and leverage this in relating to team members on a daily basis. For better or worse, individuals can sense how we feel about them through subtle verbal and non-verbal cues.
3.) Join for lunch during the business day. Since you prefer not to socialize on personal time, I would recommend joining (or even initiating with them) for lunch or coffee occasionally. Continue to avoid the gossip and steer the conversation in more positive directions when you do join them. As the experienced professional in the group, you have the potential to be a positive role model for these millenials.
4.) If you want to raise your concerns with your boss, focus on team/business implications. If the climate is negatively impacting your work experience, I think it is appropriate to raise the issues with your boss. I would recommend focusing on examples that highlight how team decision-making has been compromised by social pressure and “group think.” Look to identify a couple potential solutions prior to talking with your boss as well. (For example, maybe your entire group would benefit from a structured norming and team building session with an outside consultant). You want to demonstrate you’re thinking like a leader and being part of the solution in addition to raising the problem.
I definitely agree with your intuition around not calling the group out on their fraternity behavior. Unfortunately, that approach would end up backfiring on you entirely and make them all the more defensive and antagonistic when it comes to dealing with you.
Here’s the good news. According to Jennifer Deal, a generational researcher at Center for Creative Leadership, one year of work experience typically goes a long way in calibrating young peoples’ expectations and norms in the workplace. So, hopefully it won’t take too long for the culture to “graduate” to a more professional environment.
Thanks for writing Office Politics! Wish you all the best in your career.
Jennifer Glueck Bezoza, MA
Jennifer Glueck Bezoza specializes in leadership development and career coaching. Through her work in Organizational Development at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Jennifer designs leadership development programs, and coaches teams and individuals. Previously, Jennifer led GE Commercial Finance’s employee engagement initiative and also served as an HR Generalist at GE. In addition, she worked as a consultant at Towers Perrin.
Jennifer holds an MA in Social-Organizational Psychology from Columbia University and a BA in Psychology from Stanford University. Jennifer is continuing her education through an executive coaching program at New York University.