Focus on whether you’re being respected as a colleague, not as a pal.
Q: My boss hired a good friend of his to work for our organization. She is talented and an asset to the group. They frequently go out to lunch together, with no invitations to anyone else in our small group to join them. I like them both and would like to join them for lunch occasionally; others in our group have also commented about being excluded from their lunches.
My boss may be clueless that his group resents the private lunches. But if I say something, I feel any resulting invitation would seem forced. Should I say something or stay quiet? — Elizabeth, San Diego
A: Managers really should be more thoughtful about this sort of thing. As you suggest, he probably has no idea that anybody is aware of his lunch habits, let alone that anybody might have a problem with them.
That said, I’d start here on a note of caution that might help you clarify how to proceed. Are you confident that your group “resents” this behavior — as opposed to finding it vaguely bothersome? In other words, can you point to examples of actual consequences, small or large, of your boss’ lunch habits? Does the friend get some sort of preferential treatment, maybe surprisingly plum assignments or an unwarranted bonus?
In short, if there appear to be tangible consequences to this relationship that need to be addressed, then address those. As I’ve observed before, management should want to take action if cliques are undermining the enterprise in concrete ways.
And if you can’t point to concrete examples, think about what your grievance really is. Perhaps you could simply invite this new colleague to lunch yourself? Or make an effort to work with her directly on some project — which is a decent tactic for responding to office cliques in general. Focus on whether you’re being respected as a colleague, not as a pal.