Shut Out By Coworkers Related To Each Other

Question:

My mom just started working in the kitchen of a fast food chain. She speaks Spanish and very little English. The hiring manager did not have a problem with that since everyone in the kitchen speak Spanish.

Ever since she started working (this is her 4th week) she felt singled out by the other employees and especially by the Kitchen manager.

As the days went by my mom realized that everyone in the kitchen is related. The kitchen manager has her husband and brother working there. The other person who works there has her daughter. Another lady there has her husband, and so on. They are all related and always talking about their family reunions.

My mom is the only one who is not related to any of them. When these family members work together, they help each other. But the manager is always trying to send my mom to do things even when she is busy doing something else, while the other employees are just standing there and talking to each other.

It seems that they are trying to create hostility for my mother. How can my mom address this situation?

Signed,

All Alone At Work


Answer:

DearĀ All Alone At Work:

Thank you for sharing your mother’s concerns about this. I’m glad she has you to talk to about it!

It could be there are two situations going on: The issue of the closeness of family members who are coworkers and the issue of a new employee coming into an established group. Either could be problematic and both together could certainly make anyone feel isolated at work.

Only your mother knows the details of everything that has happened and how the others interact with each other and with her, but let me make some suggestions that have worked in other places. Urge her to be open about trying some things she may think wouldn’t be helpful.

1. Accept that the first few months of any job is a time when new employees are not included and may feel they are being picked on purposely. A good manager can help to reduce that but most managers don’t see it as a responsibility.

The idea of acceptance is difficult for most of us, but once we realize that what we are enduring is probably not unique we are less likely to take it personally. Likely the shutting out that is happening is not directed at her personally. They would be doing the same thing to anyone.

Soon someone newer will start work and your mom can demonstrate her empathy by including that person and not making then go through her own trials. 2. Your mom can also consider sharing her feelings with one or two. For example, “You’re lucky to work with your mom here. I sometimes feel all alone because everyone is related, but I enjoy hearing some of the family stories.” Just saying that might be enough to let others know how she feels. But, I’ll bet that would also start a conversation about working with family compared to working solo.

3. Take the initiative to communicate. Your mom’s language isn’t a problem because others apparently speak Spanish too. She may find she needs to speak up a bit more and find things to discuss with coworkers. The best thing to discuss is work and how to make it easier or how to overcome frustrations or irritations about it. But she could also talk about fun events in the area or topics everyone has in common: Their car, their neighborhood, their health, their pets, etc.

Maybe she could ask others how long they’ve worked there and what their biggest problems were as new employees. She might mention her last job and how she likes this one better.

The key is to contribute to conversations, not just listen. Listening is a good skill but at some point there has to be a response that keeps others communicating.

4. Ask to be included. Without sounding pitiful, it’s possible for your mother to let others know she feels as though she is not wanted there or at least not included. When she is talking to the manager she might say, “Am I doing my work OK?” When he says yes (we hope) she can say, “I wondered, because sometimes I feel as though I’m not included in the group and I thought maybe it had to do with my work. Do you have ideas for how I could fit in better?”

She may find there are one or two things she is doing that have created a bit of conflict, even though she didn’t realize it. Or, the manager may reassure her that anything she has sensed has not been intentional.

Sometimes a remark like that is enough to remind a manager or coworker to make the effort to include a new employee. 5. If things are really bad (and it doesn’t sound as though it is intolerable, just not very much fun for working), she could be more definite about it when talking to the manager. Cooks are valuable resources and no manager wants to lose one and have to hire another, so your mom’s unhappiness with the situation might be important to him or her.

She might say, “I’d like to stay here but I’m feeling like I’m either not wanted or as though I’m being shut out for some reason. Do you have any idea what the problem might be?”

I don’t know that your mother would feel comfortable being that assertive about it, but it is the way some people would handle it and it wouldn’t be wrong to do it that way.

6. As a final thought, remind her that few people will continue to shut out someone who has value to them and the workplace. The best way to build some friendly relationships is by being an effective employee, caring about others, having something to add to work and to conversations, and showing by word and deed a desire to be a friend at work.

7. Sometimes none of that helps and the employee has to decide if it’s possible to work under the circumstances. Many just decide to focus on work and keep working until things change. Others decide to find a place that isn’t so challenging and difficult. There are no laws or regulations related to creating a friendly workplace or even a fair one as far as work assignments are concerned. So, the issue of hostility doesn’t apply in a legal sense in what you describe.

So, this will be one of those times when your mom will need to draw on her on personal strength to decide how to respond to the situation in the best way. She may find her best solution is to give it a bit more time and keep her own positive attitude showing.

Best wishes as this progresses. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens.

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.