The Sunday Telegraph - Sunday
The Midults: I love my new job but the cliquey office atmosphere is making me unhappy
QI’ve just joined a new office and there’s a really tight clique there. Aside from the usual new-girl paranoia, I am part of a management shake-up, so I am pretty sure everybody is suspicious and resentful of me. They deliberately exclude me from tea runs and conversations – and it seems incredibly childish to say but I do feel left out. I love the work but hate the atmosphere and I wonder if it will get better? –Pariah
AGetting a new boss is like getting a new stepmother – it’s never a relaxing experience. Understandably, during a regime change, the office becomes a combat zone: full of power plays and passive aggression. Everyone pretends to be helpful, whilst also lying in wait (metaphorically dressed in camouflage) like SAS operatives gathering intel on the enemy. A trip to the bathroom is a minefield, the local pub a war room and new recruits are treated with, at best, suspicion and, at worst, contempt.
The reason for all this tension is that management shake-ups are extremely destabilising. They instantly make everyone feel insecure. Professional and financial fears are triggered, people’s personal “sense of preservation” alarms start to go off. You can practically feel the tension in the air: if you listen hard enough you can hear the angry staccato of panic typing. Suddenly the whole space is bristling. Click, click, click. Pause. Click.
We are familiar with these atmospheres because we met in one. More than 21 years ago, which seems like an extraordinary thing to write down, Emilie got a new job, a dream job, if you like. When she arrived, the original team stuck together like glue. They had banter, tea runs, parties and codes. They had their way of doing things, and they loved it and each other. They were extremely defensive, worried about what was going to happen to them and disliked the new modus operandi. As a result, nobody really spoke to Emilie for two months – they didn’t know how. She was viewed as an outsider and couldn’t crawl out from under that particular label. So, she sat at a desk, with no mates, miserable in that dream job. Until Annabel walked in one day, sat down at the next desk, and the rest is history.
Even if the management takeover isn’t a hostile one, walking into a new office isn’t like going to a ready-made party with ready-made friends. Work friendships can be very profound things and take time and patience. Like all good relationships they evolve, they bed in, they are full of stories and texture and they are so worth it. We sat next to each other, from 9-6pm, five days a week, for five years, and still work together (and holiday together, where possible) two decades later. Now with new hybrid work environments and (much-needed) flexibility for people, that sort of ease and trust will take even longer to build – you say yourself in your longer letter that you are only in the office two days a week.
First, it’s important that you have acknowledged to yourself how you are feeling so it doesn’t start to calcify and make you resentful, snipey and selfdoubtful. We would counsel you to resist madly issuing invitations to lunch, the pub after work, in an attempt to win people over. Instead, just be nice to everyone.
Importantly you also need to hold your boundaries – don’t let the new management weaponise you against the old. You’ll soon see whether you are witnessing dysfunction or healthy change that is going to genuinely reinvigorate the company. Remember that there is natural filtration in these circumstances – people either come to terms with the changes or they go another way. No one needs a push or a pull from you.
It’s a big deal that you love the work – in fact, it’s everything. However, that doesn’t mean that you should overcompensate by working too hard and neglect your real friends and your real life. You might feel like a misfit there, and are frustrated that your colleagues can’t see the brilliant, helpful, reliable you, but it is worth remembering that they are scared and bruised and therefore currently unreceptive. Hold yourself together and keep everything else in play beyond office hours because that is also who you are. Remind yourself that you have the capacity for great friendship and allyship, and walk into the office with that force field around you. You will know when you need to power it up or down.
And remember that there is a natural churn with staffing: soon, you won’t be the new girl anymore. Just another warhorse extending the hand of friendship to a nervous first-dayer who is worried that the office clique won’t like her.
Write to us
Do you have a dilemma that you’re grappling with? Email Annabel and Emilie on themidults@ telegraph.co.uk. All questions are kept anonymous. They are unable to reply personally