Out Of The Loop

Question:

I work in an office where we all do tasks outside of our area of expertise. Example: I was hired as the Accounting Assistant, but also do administrative work because the management believes in keeping all tasks broken up for security reasons. I work at one end of the office with my boss (the accountant) while all of the rest of the support staff works at the other end. Although, I try to be friendly, I am not part of the group that works closely in the other area. Because I have due dates and cut offs to meet, I often need to repeatedly request information from my co-workers to be able to meet my deadlines. This seems to have created an attitude with the others because most of the interaction I have with them is requesting something they do not feel is important to their job tasks. I have a very heavy workload, and I’m not afforded the opportunity to just interact with them on a social basis.

I try to be friendly on a more social basis, but am met with short, rude comments. Likewise, while they are all aware of what the team is working on or a mutual goal, I am left out of the communication loop and find myself trying to play catch-up with information that directly affects my job tasks. I have addressed this with my supervisor, but have been met with constant excuses for the behavior. I’m left picking up the slack to complete my work and meet my deadlines. I constantly try to be a team player and make myself available to anyone who needs assistance, but I’m still treated as an outsider. I invite others to join me for lunch but am always given a reason they can’t join me, and am never invited to join the others when they go out together. In short, I do not feel like a part of the team, and it seems no matter what I do, I am not accepted as a part of the team. Management does not seem to care as long as the work is getting completed in time, and I feel this is all creating more stress for me than is necessary. I’ve tried “killing them with kindness” only to have it thrown back in my face. I’ve tried talking to HR, but have since found they HR is also part of the clique, and nothing is done. I have no support in the office and am not sure how to deal with this. I need my job as I am single, and know that finding another job will be difficult with the current unemployment rates. But, it does hurt my feelings to watch how others are friendly with each other in the office but make a point to be short and rude with me. How am I supposed to deal with this and not let it affect my work and home life?

Signed,

Not Included


Answer:

Dear Not Included:

Work is harder when you don’t feel you are liked, and I don’t want to raise false hope that you can change that. You may have already made every reasonable effort available to be included. Therefore, the advice I give shouldn’t be considered as transforming. If you want to and need to keep your job, it just could be that you must continue to be treated as out of the loop and therefore work on with that hurt. Can you do that? I don’t know how long you have been employed in the position you now hold, but apparently, you have been there long enough to prove you are valuable to your firm and you can live with that. Your analysis of why you are not included fails to deal with at least two possible factors. I’ll first address one situational fact that apparently is not obvious to you: you are physically situated and perceived as next to your accounting boss. You, therefore, don’t rub elbow with those at the other end of the office and moreover you probably are seen as an administrative assistant who makes deadlines and requires reports. Intellectually, you acknowledge this in such statements as: “the interaction I have with them is requesting something they do not feel is important to their job tasks.” Those at the other end see your requests as you needing–needing, needing, needing–something that just adds chores to their jobs rather than as essential to making their work effective. Right?

The very set up and system within your working configuration causes you to be out of the loop. You say, “I have addressed this with my supervisor, but have been met with constant excuses for the behavior.” From here, I can’t know if this is the only possible configuration for the physical and system design for you and coworkers’ work. But it is one cause of you isolation. You and probably your accountant boss are seen as adjuncts that must fight to get information. Your supervisor’s excuses seem not to acknowledge this. I predict that you will continue to be out of the loop until the configuration of where your desk is placed and/or the system of interaction required is two-way between you and those at the other end of the office. That is a systems issue–including you in ways that your tasks are understood as essential to the success of the team.

The hard fact is that changing office arrangement is as unacceptable as changing one’s diet from meat eating to vegetarian. But it can be done if the overarching goal is appealing; such as making more money, cutting wasted time, supplies, and energy. From the bottom up, it is not as likely to happen as from the top down. The chance of a reconfiguration happening is enhanced if your organization has a champion in power that encourages talk about talk.

Translated that means that natural work groups are required/expected to have frequent skull sessions; skull sessions that develop a habit of collaboratively answering the questions: How well did we communicate this past week? What went well and deserves applause? What might we do to improve the way we communicate and work? If you scan dozens of team related Q&As in our Archives, you will see that the most frequent problems and consequent advice is to make skull sessions to address these question an expected ritual. Might you and your boss accountant possibly model this? Might you two engage your supervisor in a trial run of skull sessions for your coworkers? Perhaps. The second possible cause for your interpersonal distance from your coworkers could be that you have personal traits that turn off people. From here I can’t assess that but it is a possibility that each of us must face when we are not included. I doubt that you come across as arrogant, overly dependent, dress too sexy or sloppy or have BO. Only you or a close friend can help you learn if there are some personal reasons your efforts to be included are rejected. Nor do you disclose how frankly you have approached those who have ignored or rudely excluded you. You say, “I’ve tried talking to HR, but have since found they HR is also part of the clique, and nothing is done.” Additional laments about being excluded probably will only make you seem more inter-personally needy and less of interesting. Therefore, unless and until you can have an eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart about your need to be included, I recommend that you learn to live with the way it is. From afar, what else can I say? The choices you have centers first on a re-thinking and re-mapping your physical and system arrangements. The chances of that kind of reshaping hinge on a top down and/or bottom cultural shift to coaching and team mindedness. The second choice is for you to persist even more pointedly in learning why you are excluded or in learning to live with it; accept the reality that you are not included. This means not gossiping or obsessing about it but finding small compensations, such as making a friend or two outside of your work area and/or getting a life outside your workplace that meets you interpersonal hunger for inclusion. That might range from joining a book of the month club, tutoring adults or children at the library, volunteering at a hospital, taking yoga, or joining a zumba dance class.

Do any of these thought speak to your question? If not, please seek the advice of friends or a religious or professional counselor. It just might be your whole outlook would be different if and when you were to be transferred within your work organization or you might find work elsewhere. My closing admonition is housed in a signature sentence that demands some thought: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. Of course, that means you alone cannot shape your work situation nor should you expect you have to take on all that responsibility.

William Gorden