Office Coach: How can I fit in with young co-workers?

Marie G. McIntyre
Tribune News Service

Q: After a much younger manager was hired for our department, my older co-workers all chose to leave for other jobs. I am now the only remaining middle-aged person in a group of 20-somethings, and I have absolutely nothing in common with them.

These young people are obsessed with television shows and sporting events that I know nothing about. They talk constantly about drinking — what they drink, where they drink, how much they consume. At my age, I have seen many problems caused by alcohol abuse, but my manager has told me not to mention this.

I avoid chatting with these youngsters because I find their discussions boring. However, I have gradually realized that I am being left out of important business conversations and activities. This makes me feel very isolated and alone. Do you have any suggestions?

A: At the risk of sounding unsympathetic, I must point out that you have chosen to isolate yourself. Many older people get along quite well with younger colleagues and actually enjoy working with them. However, your own behavior seems to radiate contempt and disapproval.

If you wish to be included in business matters, you need to become a member of the group. Instead of disdainfully shunning casual conversations, try to take an interest in your co-workers’ activities. Watch a few of those unfamiliar television shows and follow a couple of their favorite teams.

When the talk turns to beers and bars, heed your boss’s advice and avoid parental lectures. Unless these folks are drinking at work, their alcohol intake really isn’t your concern. Should they ever desire advice on the subject, they are more likely to consult a helpful colleague than a disapproving critic.

Keep in mind that your objective is not to join the youth culture, but to build positive and productive working relationships. If you continue to fly solo, your career, your productivity and your daily happiness are all likely to suffer.

Q: My manager has recently begun pointing out errors in my work. Although I was hired for my technical skills, this job involves a lot of administrative tasks that I have never done. I get confused about instructions and often forget to send emails, contact clients or fill out forms. I don’t want to be fired, so how can I fix this?

A: Most administrative jobs require mastering a variety of policies, procedures and processes. Since this is unfamiliar territory, your mistakes may be a predictable part of the learning curve. In that case, if you apply yourself, time will eventually solve the problem.

The key to reducing your error rate is identifying effective organizational strategies. Task lists, calendar reminders, daily schedules and even hand-written notes can be useful memory joggers. Colleagues in similar positions may have helpful tips to share.

But if you continue to struggle, this assignment might simply be a poor match for your natural work style. While some people thrive on juggling endless details, others find them to be exasperating and exhausting. If you fall into the latter category, a more strictly technical position may be a better fit.

Marie G. McIntyre is a workplace coach and the author of “Secrets to Winning at Office Politics.” Send in questions and get free coaching tips at, or follow her on Twitter @officecoach.