Office frenemies

Q: I have worked at a small marketing company for about seven years. As working from home has ended, my company has rented a new office space. I am less excited to go back to the office than I thought I would be. After a couple of months of the office being open, I hadn’t gone until last week. For lunch, I mentioned to colleagues that we could walk downtown, and one of them said, “Let’s check the weather,” but we all knew it was raining. Then she suggested we walk in the rain to a different restaurant, so it was clear the weather was not the issue; accepting my suggestion was the problem.

During lunch, one colleague cut me off mid-story to share her entree with someone. It seemed so pointed that she didn’t want to listen to me, I didn’t finish my story, and there was an awkward silence at the table while the conversation shifted. After lunch we returned to the office, and they opted to work in a shared space without inviting or telling me. On my way out, they mentioned they were discussing how to shape the new role I’d suggested for my one direct report, also without inviting me.

My office is made up of 20 women and five men, and while I am 100% in favor, in theory, of working in a mostly women-led work space, my company feels cliquey and sophomoric and kind of ageist at times, too. Is this because of gender and generational differences? I am 50 and a writer and my entree-sharing lunch companion is 30 and the financial and operations manager. Our company is about 40% Gen X and 60% millennial. What do you think is going on? While there are things I like about this job, I am, in some ways, the most unhappy I’ve been. Many colleagues of all ages and genders say this is the best job they’ve ever had. Should I find a new job? Should I confide in someone else at my office?

— Anonymous

A: This letter certainly took a turn. In an environment where some people work from home while others work in an office, it can be challenging to feel as if you’re a part of the office culture and are being included in both formal and informal conversations. While you were working from home, your colleagues developed relationships that are making you feel excluded. That’s never a comfortable feeling, but I am certain there are several steps between an awkward day at the office and looking for new work. You clearly feel out of sync with your colleagues. Maybe it’s age, gender, generation or a combination of all three, but these are not insurmountable obstacles. What can you do to develop stronger relationships with your colleagues?

Consider a hybrid schedule where, perhaps, you work from home three days a week and go into the office twice a week so you can maintain deeper personal relationships and feel more like a part of the office culture. Get to know your colleagues without making assumptions. Be open to moving out of your comfort zone. You ask, “What do you think is going on?” I’m not sure anything is going on. I will note that your statement about being theoretically open to women-led work environments leads me to believe that you might be harboring some biases that are worth examining because maybe they are getting in the way of fostering good relationships with your colleagues. You went from women at work to “cliquey and sophomoric” really fast. To be clear, we all have biases. What matters is that we are willing to examine them, honestly, and work to overcome them.

Exit strategies

Q: I took a job working for a colleague I’ve known for many years. I’ve always thought she was great. She complained a bit in the past, but I thought it was the norm for middle management. Now she’s the senior person and she complains about everyone. According to her, she had to rewrite and redo basically everything because x, y and z staffers did a bad job. Everyone who makes a presentation is terrible (she’s not actually very good!). She’s always right (and often, she really does have great ideas) and lets you know. She says she’s so proud of how great the team is, which is awful since we almost all know that’s not what she thinks. I know she must be complaining about me to my peers. Yes, I am looking for a new job.

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How do I resign? Do I tell her I’m looking? Tell her I’m looking unless she starts treating people better? Or get a new job and give her two weeks’ notice? Or get a new job and tell her she should really work on how she treats people?

— Anonymous

A: Don’t overthink how you resign from this job. People leave jobs all the time. Get a new job and give reasonable notice. If there is a formal exit interview, you might use that opportunity to tactfully share why you’re leaving, but I don’t think she is really going to care that you’re leaving because you can no longer tolerate her disposition. She seems … unpleasant and if she cared what people thought, she probably wouldn’t act this way in the first place. Best of luck in finding a new job.

Neurodivergence and the supply chain

Q: I was diagnosed with ADHD about two years ago, shortly before graduating from college. I am still learning how best to manage my brain, but I have seen great improvement with knowledge and medication. When I interviewed for and accepted my job, I followed advice I found online and did not disclose my diagnosis.

Now, we have been dealing with a nationwide shortage of ADHD stimulant medication. My prescription ran out a week ago, and I have been unsuccessful in getting it refilled. I am already suffering withdrawal symptoms as well as returned difficulty focusing, staying on task and performing well. Should I inform my supervisor of what’s going on? My office pays plenty of lip service to mental health and inclusion, but most of my colleagues are older and in my view, they can be more traditional. Though I have a good rapport with my supervisor, I worry about being labeled lazy or incompetent. — Anonymous

A: This is a challenging situation but by no means insurmountable. If you have a good rapport with your supervisor, and your work is being affected by your inability (through no fault of your own) to treat your medical condition, I would disclose what’s going on, how you’re trying to manage and what kind of support you need until you are able to resume your prescription regimen. You’re right. Many companies pay lip service to supporting the mental health of their employees, and few follow through. Perhaps it’s time to see where your employer stands. If your supervisor labels you as lazy or incompetent because of a medical condition, that speaks volumes more about them than you.

Inherited office drama

Q: I’ve recently started a new position as a director with three people under me. There is a lot of leftover drama that predates me. My supervisor and his supervisor have personnel issues with a woman who reports to me but are always cryptic and vague about their concerns, which makes them hard to address.

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My direct report is very good at her job, but from what I’ve gathered, she frequently goes above everyone’s heads and tells people how they should be doing their jobs. The problem is that no one will tell me exactly what was said or give me firm examples. I don’t feel like I have enough information to discuss this behavior with her.

I’ve been told by my supervisor that other people with the company have asked that she not come to their office. But when I ask for explanations, I’m given general answers like “She needs to stop telling people how to do their job and lecturing them.” It seems as if it’s an issue of her needing to stay in her lane, but I have to correct the behavior based on concrete interactions and not a general “everyone doesn’t like you.”

I can see how they got to this point. This employee was very close with the previous director and they operated more as a team than as a director and an employee, and that seems to have carried over. The woman who reports to me is generally very negative and likes to point out problems that she then exacerbates. She has an “us versus them” mentality in which she knows everything and everyone else with the company is clueless, despite her being in a very junior role. How do I address what seems to be poor work behavior if I have not witnessed it and have no real examples? — Anonymous, Chicago

A: You’ve inherited some strange, awkward problems that your colleagues clearly didn’t want to deal with and are foisting on you. I am always leery when an employee’s failings are discussed vaguely and cryptically. There’s a reason for a lack of specificity. Is this person overstepping or is she making harmless observations that make people feel territorial? It seems as if your colleagues simply don’t like her and are trying to make that your problem. It must be overwhelming to be thrown into the middle of this and expected to resolve it somehow.

You’re right to be hesitant about reprimanding someone for behaviors you have not observed. Perhaps the best way forward is with clarity and honesty. While some of your colleagues are being vague and cryptic, you don’t have to proceed in that manner. Have a conversation with this employee. Be frank and share what you know, ask for her side of the story and work with her to map a way forward. The results of this conversation just might surprise you.