A reader writes:
I am 22 years old, I have a degree and I am a Marketing Coordinator for a franchise. Now I work with two coworkers and my boss, all of who are in their mid 30's. My boss has proven to be a great boss, until now.
The two coworkers I work with have known each other since they were 19, go on smoke breaks together and know all the same friends. So of course I don't fit in so much already. I've worked here for 6 months and I guess I thought I might start to fit in by now, but that is not the case. One coworker in particular does not want me to fit in ever and she makes a point to let me know that. One day she'll be kind to me and the next she's well a complete "B"! Trying to kill her with kindness hasn't worked and finally I talked with my boss about the situation, due to the fact that I was going home crying half the time. He said that my age was a factor in the way they all acted around me, that they don't know how to act around me. They wouldn't hang out with me outside of work because we wouldn't have anything in common, so they don't know how to act around me at work.
He also assumed, with these thoughts in mind, that I wouldn't know what marketing layouts he would want so he has been asking someone outside of the company (his same age) to do designs instead of me.
Since this conversation, one coworker has not talked to me at all. I don't want to work at a place I am not wanted but I need the money! My boss said he would talk to me later about the issue and has not. What should I do? I don't think it is right to be treated like crap because I'm 10 years younger than everyone. Is it age discrimination when I am young?
This is a letter where I can't actually tell what's going on. When I first read your letter, my immediate thought was, "Wow, they're focused on your age when they're the ones acting like babies." But then, on a second reading, I realized that there's not actually much here to support that they're behaving badly. You're definitely interpreting their behavior as poor, but there aren't many specific details supporting that. I mean, yes, you've got two coworkers who are good friends and that's making you feel left out, but there's not a lot here indicating that there's much more going on beyond that.
So with limited information to go on, all I can say is that one of two things is happening:
1. Your coworkers just haven't particularly bonded with you. If the issue is that they haven't embraced you socially ... well, not everyone clicks and not everyone has to. You may never "fit in" with them in that way, and that's not uncommon. What matters is that you all work together reasonably well regardless. In this scenario, I think you're a little too hung up on age, and probably attributing too much to that, and your boss was probably just trying to smooth it over, maybe a little inartfully.
2. Your coworkers are actually being rude, obstructionist, or otherwise inappropriate with you. If this is the case, your boss should let them know that they're expected to work constructively with all employees, period. And if this is the case, excusing their behavior because they're older than you and wouldn't hang out with you outside of work is weird and irrelevant.
But again, I can't tell which of these scenarios is actually happening here. But I do know that you're not really helping matters yourself. Going home crying because your coworkers haven't embraced you is giving them way too much power over your quality of life. The reality is, most people have to deal with coworkers who they don't really click with. Do your job and don't take their attitudes personally. If they're rude to you, that indicates that something is wrong with them, not you.
The part about this that troubles me the most, though, is your boss outsourcing design work because he assumed that you weren't experienced enough to know what he'd want. Now, it's possible that he knows he's going to get better work from a more seasoned designer, and he never intended to assign the work to your position since it's filled by someone more entry-level. But is this supposed to be part of your job? Is it work you were led to believe you'd be doing when you were hired? Is it work you should be doing? These questions really, really matter, and again it's information that I don't have. If the answer to these questions is yes, then you need to talk to your boss about this. Tell him it concerns you that he doesn't feel you're ready to handle this component of your job and ask him what he'd need to see from you in order to feel comfortable giving you a chance at that work. Maybe his concerns aren't about your age at all -- maybe by talking about this you'll find that they're based on something more legitimate. Or maybe not. But you do need to talk about it and get a better grasp on what's going on here.
Last, regarding age discrimination, in most states age discrimination laws only apply to people 40 and up. But I think that's a red herring anyway -- this isn't about age. It's about what you can and can't expect from your relationships with your coworkers, and it's about building a better relationship with your boss where you're better aligned on mutual expectations.