How Can I Break In?

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about not fitting in to a new job: What would you do to stop the on and off alienation or punishment they want to make me aware?

For the first time in my life I have a job with no deadlines or unnecessary stress. At this point in my life I do not want a stressful job. I am 47 and am raising 9 and 10 year old boys. My co-workers work harder than me, but I would not consider any of our jobs stressful. There are 5 men and 2 females including myself. The one female hardly ever talks to me unless I address her. But she does engage in conversation with all the other men in the office. I am new to the company and they have been together for over 10 years. They have continued their routines as far as sports pools and their friendships and do not include me in their little family of friends.

Whenever I take time off, they become even more tight knit. They don’t like to answer the phones. They go as far as alienating me for an entire week. I am somewhat sensitive because I would never treat them as they do me. I am originally from New York and I have found that here in Florida there is a lot of prejudices, especially the Florida native, they feel that everyone is moving to Florida to take over. I just work here, I’m not out to take or get anyone or make them feel less of a person. What would you do to stop the on and off alienation or punishment they want to make me aware of?

Signed, Not A Florida Native

Dear Not A Florida Native:

I am sorry this situation exits. Clearly, you have not been accepted as one of the team. Why? The group leader/supervisor should have “opened the door” for you and taken steps to expand/maintain the teamwork. This is critically important if your respective jobs are interdependent upon each other.

Must you communicate with each other to do your job? Or are your jobs such that you simply have to be in the same room together? Are there group meetings that might trigger communications? Not only does the group leader/supervisor have responsibility to facilitate this cooperation, but so do you and your co-workers. One would think others would welcome you as a new member of the team and try to help you get acclimated.

There is so little I know about the details of your situation, so it is difficult to recommend action. However, let me take a stab.Admittedly, there could be reasons they may not want you there. They may have wanted someone else to get the job. There may be a political click there. You do not know that, but it may come out as your relationship with them advances.

Teamwork requires a team. You may have to be the one to initiate your membership. Please try to look at this objectively. They may have nothing against you. They probably do not. They are just finding it hard to buddy-up to a new co-worker after 10 years of the same working relationships. It may be a new experience for them. They may not know how. They may be protective of their turf because they do not see you yet as one of them. My guess is they would have acted this way with any newcomer – not just you.

Probably, the opportunity is still there to break the ice. They no doubt perceive you as an outsider – someone they do not know or understand or trust. You can try to initiate turning that around. It will take some time. Show them you are not a threat but a friend, a helper, a co-worker who will do her share of the work, and in a pleasant way. Let them discover you can be not only a good worker, but a fun person who is on their side. Understand, you will have to look for ways to do this, without patronizing them. Your intentions must appear genuine and natural. If you answer the phone often (when they don’t), are the calls such that you need to inform them of things, or ask them about things. Engage them. Don’t show them that you are trying to make it without depending on their job functions or expertise.

Be a team player yourself. Be willing to earn your way into their group. You may have to pay your dues. It has been said the best way to make a friend is to be one. Try going out of your way to smile, offer to help them, show an interest in them. Bring in donuts or bagels some morning. You might try engaging in conversation with the female who has talked with you. Get to know her. Do lunch together. Bring her a little gift. Ask about her family, her interests, about the company-how she got started. Get her to talk. Open the door for her to open up to you. Ask her to help you with something – perhaps explain something about the work process, so she knows your motive is one of cooperation. Show an interest in her. Help her somehow on the job. Try to do something together outside work. She might be your key to opening the door with the men in the office. As things develop, ask her questions about the men – not in an interrogating way, but in a “I want to learn and help” way. Perhaps she will talk with them about you in a positive way and draw you into conversations with them. Please give this a try beyond what you have done so far.

It really sounds like they have developed their work group over 10 years and you need to delicately open yourself to them so they will open themselves individually and as a group to you. I wish you well. Give it some time. Entering to a room with others there already talking and not being invited into the conversation is rude, yet to simply retreat does not help you feel wanted. After an appropriate time for listening, almost always the newcomer has something to ask about or contribute. Becoming an accepted member of a team is like that. That is thinking and acting what we call WEGO. Please feel free to get back to us in a couple of weeks to tell us what you are doing and if things are going better or worse.

Donald G. Gibson, Guest Respondent