Dear Career Coach,
Help! I just started a new job three months ago and while I love the work I’m doing (and the fact that I can walk to work), I’m having a hard time fitting in with the people. I really don’t think I’m a weirdo, either, because I’ve made fast friends at the other companies I’ve worked at. Most of the people at this new company have been around for a long time, and they seem to really pride themselves on that. They aren’t exactly rude to the newbies like me, but they exude a subtle attitude of superiority and make jokes about how the new people just don’t get it, don’t work as hard or last that long. They call my cubicle a revolving door. If it weren’t for the people, this would be my dream job. I want to make it work. How do I break in socially?
-The Rookie Outcast
Dear Rookie Outcast,
How cool is it that you’ve found your Almost-Dream Job? Let’s celebrate that before we move on to the meat of the matter, which is that people suck. Not always, but often. And we get to work alongside them!
Breaking into a culture where tenure is so highly valued — where even a rookie rocket scientist wouldn’t stand a chance simply because she wasn’t at that meeting in 2007 — is tough. But it’s doable.
- Ask yourself how much it matters. If it takes these ice cubes a year to melt, can you work with that? If you can grin and bear it, and reverse the curse of the revolving door cube, it might pay to just simply do the hard time. If social acceptance is a major sticking point for you (like many of us, having a best friend at work is a major determinant of our level of engagement), you’ll have to apply more effort to break into the clique. Read on.
- Do great work. Don’t give anyone an excuse to dismiss you as a rookie who will be gone by Margie’s birthday celebration next month. The more capable, helpful and reliable you can be, the faster you’ll gain their respect.
- Kiss a little bit of butt. I’m not saying you have to suck up to these old dogs, but I am saying you have to show respect in ways that might not feel great after they’ve all come back from Potbelly without asking you along with them. Ask them about the good old days. Ask them how long it took them to break in. Flatter them for their years of service and tell them how excited and invested you are to really be here for the long haul. Thank them for helping you when they offer assistance or insight. Let them bask in their perceived glory of experience. It’s possible that previous rookies treated them like sad antiques, so don’t come close to dismissing their tenure.
- Make an effort to get to know them individually. Approaching this clique of relics as a group in the lunchroom is like asking to be excluded on the schoolyard from the popular kids’ huddle. Go in for the kill one-on-one. Ask Jim about his kids if he has a photo of them on his desk. Ask Amal about the lai she has hanging up in her cube. Bring Maria some fancy-pants Jelly Bellys to add to her candy dispenser. Ask Juan about his weekend as you walk from the parking lot into the building. (Notice that this relationship-building effort involves a lot of asking… not telling them stuff about you. Don’t be weird and not divulge stuff about yourself, but don’t be the guy who goes on about himself.)
- Bond, carefully, with the other newbies. Forge friendships with them for sure, but just be careful you don’t promulgate a ‘them vs. us’ mentality. Don’t start a rookie clubhouse.
- Try the direct route. If push comes to shove (um, not literally though), why not have a candid conversation with the people you’d like to befriend? “Shane, do you mind if I ask you something? It seems like it’s hard to break in socially here if you haven’t been around for a while. Do you notice that? I like it here and I want to have fun as a group. Any advice for me?”
- Don’t be afraid to leave if people continue to suck. If the people thing really matters to you, and they still won’t come around after you’ve sincerely tried and passed your freaking probationary period, there are other fish (jobs) in the sea (job market). Life’s too short to feel ostracized because you don’t have a Ten-Year Anniversary plaque on your cubicle wall