It can be irritating or even troubling to feel left out at work — even if whatever you’re being left out of doesn’t appeal to you.
Q: I work at a blue-collar job, and I am one of four women in a crew of 40. The guys never touch or harass me, or any of the women, as far as I know.
They do, however, constantly hug and grab and bump each other in a friendly way. It’s not unusual for one of the guys to go through a whole short meeting (a stand-up “huddle”) with an arm around another guy’s shoulder.
No one ever touches me, and it’s not that I want anyone to. That would be weird. But I almost feel left out. Should I let this “bro contact” bother me? — Mary
A: It can be irritating or even troubling to feel left out at work — even if whatever you’re being left out of doesn’t appeal to you.
“There are a lot of ways to feel excluded,” said Eden King, a psychology professor at Rice University. “And a lot of them are nonverbal.”
Informal social rituals like happy-hour gatherings and the office Oscar pool can improve an office’s culture — unless they leave some people feeling that they just don’t fit in. At worst, this can become a “coded way of excluding people,” said King, who directs a workplace diversity research group at Rice. “’We don’t want people like you because you don’t fit our culture’ can turn out to mean ‘you’re not our race, or our gender.’”
The classic example is golf: If you don’t play, and your boss bonds in career-shaping ways on the links, that can be a problem.
The good news is that it doesn’t seem as if your colleagues are trying to exclude you. In fact, they seem to be behaving respectfully, and they probably don’t suspect their “bro contact” might be bothersome, and almost certainly don’t intend it to be.
Think about whether it might help to look for other ways to feel comfortably included. Since you’ve described a sociable workplace, consider conversational or topical gambits: joking, shared hobbies or interests, talk of sports or family or whatever feels right. Don’t consider this an obligation, but rather an approach that might make your days more enjoyable.
Any worker should be tuned in to the office culture, and if some element of that culture interferes with her job, she should talk to a manager. But if that’s not the case right now, it’s better to focus on connection and inclusion. “If she can find other ways of being friendly with her co-workers,” King said, “that’s going to serve her well.”
Is a better desk too much to ask for?
Q: I work for a large company. I’m on the phone all day taking calls, sitting, typing on a keyboard. I have requested a sit/stand desk. But I have been told I need a medical recommendation from a doctor. My physician and I must fill out long forms, and then a “workplace accommodations team” will decide if my request is warranted.
The problem is that this is not standard policy companywide. Employees in other locations with the same job do not have to go through this process. If they request a sit/stand desk, they receive one. In fact, one location supplies such desks to every worker.
When I bring this up to my boss, I’m told it’s not in the budget. This is not a company on the ropes. We are very profitable. Any suggestions on how to proceed? — R.F.
A: For the big picture, I ran this by Sharon Rennert, a senior attorney adviser at the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission whose focus includes the Americans With Disabilities Act. Generally speaking, she said, it’s perfectly permissible to make this sort of request of an employee.
Specifically, an employer in this situation can ask to “verify that there is a medical condition, and that it constitutes a disability as defined by the ADA,” she continued. An employer can also ask, in so many words: Why do you need this, and are there other, equally effective ways to solve the problem? Answering might reasonably entail consultation with a health care professional.
Of course, an employer can also choose to be more generous — providing the desks on request, or ordering one for everybody. There are solid management reasons to do so. But if your boss has the autonomy to set the rules on such matters, the company’s overall profitability doesn’t really matter.
It might be worth finding out if there is a relevant policy enshrined in a company handbook or elsewhere. You could go to upper management, making the case that it would be good for morale and productivity (or whatever) if every location adopted a more generous policy.
The inconsistency does seem a bit sloppy to me, but fixing that problem would most likely be a major undertaking. In fact, I’d say it makes dealing with a little paperwork sound relatively easy. Maybe you should try that first.