When a New Hire Gets the Cold Shoulder

A former entrepreneur enters the corporate mix at a new job and struggles with coworkers.

Suzanne Lucas

I used to own my own business, and I worked solo. Now I am part of a company and having real difficulty fitting in. I come from another culture, not ethnically. I have never been good with groups as there seems to be a hierarchical pecking order. I have been told I am efficient and respectful in work and other contexts. I am empathetic (I remember birthdays and listen, for example) and am not a pushover. The fact that my boss likes me is causing me problems with the coworkers, and I am starting to sabotage myself and shrink into the woodwork. The office politics and the favoritism are making me think of leaving.

The most frustrating part about junior high is that even though everyone physically leaves it behind, some people cling to the behavior their entire lives. It's all about being popular and sitting with the cool kids at lunch.

You need to stop caring that you are not part of the cool kids group. I realize it really stinks that you are doing everything right and they still don't like you. But it's called work because it is work. Work is where you get stuff done and, in turn, where you get a paycheck. Separate it from your social life completely. 

The boss likes you. Excellent. But you are afraid of losing the already lost support of your coworkers, so you are decreasing your performance level. You said you have never been good with groups. Think about that for a moment—this means you are part of the problem. Not that you need to stop performing well, but think about how you interact with others. How do you remember birthdays? By sending someone a happy birthday E-mail or silently putting a card on a coworker's desk? Or do you bring in a cake and balloons and hit everybody else up for $5 toward said cake? If the latter hasn't been in the office culture, it's going to rub a lot of people the wrong way. 

It's sad to say, but being too nice can be seen as fake: "Just who does she think she is, anyway?" You say you show empathy through listening, but are you just listening, or are you offering advice? People generally take advice only from a very small group of people. The new hire isn't going to be on that list.

Continue working hard, dial back a bit with the coworkers, and see how things work out. You can go to your boss and address your concerns: "I'm having a hard time unifying with the team. What suggestions do you have for me?" Using words like team and teamwork will keep it on a professional level and not slide into the realm of "My coworker thinks she's better than everyone else."

Should you leave? Some people are better entrepreneurs than they are employees. You may be that type of person. Only you can make that final judgment. I suspect that if you left to join another company, you'd run into similar problems, so I would try to see if you can grow from this experience. Give it some time.

It could be that you have just unhappily landed in a very cliquish group and you'd thrive elsewhere. But I'd work on your group interaction skills before throwing away this particular job. You don't have to take it forever. Just see if you can make some improvement. Feel free to polish up the résumé and start networking, but don't look to run from your own shortcomings. Resolve them, and then worry about what other people think of you.

Suzanne Lucas has nine years of h uman r esources experience, most of which has been in a Fortune c ertificate from the Society for Human Resource Management. She blogs at Evil HR Lady .


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