Stuffy Office Environment

06/25/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

"Dear Christine,
My job is okay, but the office environment feels super old-fashioned. While the people are civil, there isn't the camaraderie I expected. It's all uptight and work, work, work. My boss seems really distant, and I feel just like a worker bee instead of a part of a team. The environment makes me feel like if there is a mistake, instead of being treated like an adult, I'd be chastised like a kid and given a time out. I work hard and like my career path, but this environment is really stifling. Is there any way to make this workplace bearable?" -- Stifled Worker Bee, 26, Virginia

Dear Stifled Worker Bee,

A "work work work" attitude at work? You're kidding! What a terrible company -- quit immediately because your job should be fun. I'm only slightly kidding.

Like many Gen Y'ers, you are discovering that the real world can be kind of, well, boring and lonely. Now that you are working with people of a different generation, mainly baby boomers, you are experiencing the generation gap. So the first thing you need to do to ease your frustration is bring some understanding into the situation. Your boss and superiors probably spent time paying their dues and grew up in a more competitive environment. They also did not grow up with messages like "work should be fun" and "be passionate about your career." To them, a job is a job.

Try not to take the traditional ways of the company personally; it's really not about you, it's about a mindset. Your boss may still think in terms of hierarchy. He or she sees young people as green and needing to learn. It probably does not occur to your boss that making you a team player could actually increase his or her bottom line.

Before you jump ship or anonymously give your boss a book on managing Gen Y, do everything you can to evaluate your situation in a very non-entitled kind of way. Rebecca Shambaugh, president and founder of Shambaugh Leadership, nationally known leadership strategist and author of It's Not A Glass Ceiling, It's A Sticky Floor advises:

"Reach out and find a mentor within your organization who is experienced and understands the subtleties of the culture, accepted level of work standards and can guide you in your own relationship with your boss. Ask your mentor to give you an honest assessment of your situation. Is your perception correct about the grinding, non-stop pattern of work or are you expecting more of yourself than the organization does? What about the level of performance: is your expectation higher of yourself than your boss'? Or is the environment truly as you see it? If so, is there a happy medium you can negotiate between work and fun? Your mentor can help you find the answers and coach you in talking with your boss. Now, if you learn that this culture is specific to your group, consider a different opportunity within the organization where you can bring value and be valued."

If there is no one you consider a mentor or trusted adviser at your work place, you need to ask yourself what sort of career path you are on. It's going to be a very long and windy road without someone who is further along the path to give you some directions along the way. Why are you there if there is no one you respect enough to reach out to?

If you think there is hope for you where you are, know it's difficult to change the dynamic of a work environment, but you can certainly change your perspective. First, I encourage you to recognize the value of the wisdom and experience of your apparently stuffy co-workers. Set lunch dates with them and ask them questions about their career path. You as the social Gen Y'er may need to make the first move. Request to be part of meetings to enhance your learning and growth at the company. The higher ups there are going to be more moved by your loyalty than your ambition, so respectfully assert yourself. And if you haven't been asserting yourself, your supervisors might have mislabeled your trepidation as ambivalence. No one is a mind reader, so if you want attitudes to start changing, start being proactive.

Most of us desire a work environment that is better than bearable since we spend more time at work than anywhere else. Like any relationship, your work relationships and environment will never be what you perceive as perfect. By reaching out to your co-workers and bosses both you and they will realize other ways to view each other and the workplace, and hopefully this candor will open the door to better understanding and higher productivity.

If, however, this is organization-wide and no amount of effort on your part yields results, ask yourself if this is a healthy environment for you and if this is the time to make the break.

-- Christine

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