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Two Gossipy Queen Bees Rule

Bee lady drawing © Franke James, MFA.

Dear Office-Politics,

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

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.

Warm regards,

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.

  1. 5 Answers to “Two Gossipy Queen Bees Rule”

  2. This situation is similar to one I face at the office, although I regret to say while I took some of the recommended steps (occasionally going to lunch, for example) I did make the mistake of calling people out. In a staff meeting I behaved inappropriately and snapped at a co-worker. I was fed up with the negative atmosphere and the prospect of her being in charge of a “team building” event. My frustration was no excuse for my bad behavior and now I wonder how to repair relationships and help team dynamics.

    I have apologized by written note to the person, although she didn’t accept an invitation to talk. I wrote an email to all staff (10 people) apologizing and noting I should have found a better way to address what I perceive is gossipy/sarcastic dynamics. But there is an awkward tension when I walk through the cubes, etc.

    Should I just wait it out, knowing I have taken the right steps (admit your wrong, apologize, resolve to do better) or is there more beyond the suggestions above to help us move forward to a more productive and civil team atmosphere?

    By Karina Erics on Oct 30, 2009

  3. It seens that evey office has Queen Bee’s it is a shame that co-workers must feel the need to cow-tow to the bee. Where I work there is amiddle aged Q Bee who acts like she in high-school. She get jealous very easily at the smallest things. In today’s economy it is a shame that one most tip toe around the Bee to keep their job! How does management not see or stop this?

    By jane on Nov 3, 2009

  4. There is a supervisor at my job who spends most of her time trying to get into other employees personal lives. Once she becomes friendly with someone she uses that as an opportunity to ask numerous questions.

    If the employees refuse to anwser her questions she then tries to get the other people in her circle to ignore that person.

    So far she hasn’t bothered me because I am pretty quiet and keep to myself.

    Any suggestions on how to handle her if she does start to pick on me?

    By veronica on Nov 5, 2009

  5. I have been in this situation myself but on the other side. I am part of a group of colleagues that get together once in a while for dinner or a few drinks after work. We all have a great time and it’s really nice to talk to people outside of the busy work environment.

    There are a few people who have never come out for one of these nights and that’s absolutely fine and as long as they know the option is there if they feel like it I’m happy.

    I know that you shouldn’t feel pressured to socialise with people who you wouldn’t socialist with outside work but it’s only one night and you don’t even have to stay for long! None of us who do go out see each other on the weekends or phone each other outside work. We are certainly not a clique but can’t help it if something fully happened and we all talk about it. I don’t see what the harm in it is. Age shouldn’t be an issue either as we have a woman in her 70s who comes out with us we’re all just people after all.


    By Eleanor on Dec 4, 2009

  6. I work in a similar office environment where the management are very close and clicky. When two specific managers get together it can be very intimidating when they try and include you in any conversation not relating to work. If it often times that I feel led into a corner and bullied by them.
    I have since learnt to ignore them when they start talking about non-work related things, and only add valuable information when they talk about work.
    On social events they almost expect you to be part of the ‘team’, and if you change your plans or can’t attend then they blank you or are snide with you the next day.
    I had hoped that when I left school that the bullying and childish behaviour would have stayed there, it appears not…
    I have since learnt to ignore the often tempting opportunities to get involved in conversation (work and non-work topics), as they feel the need to assert their Queen Bee status, and avoid contact with them during social events.
    Needless to say I have been head hunted by another section of where I work and I am glad to say the manager there is the total opposite.

    By Matt on Nov 17, 2011

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