coworkers don’t like me because I’m younger

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.

{ 22 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I sort of had the same problem you do. I was hired as a dining coordinator at age 19 and I worked along with 5 other people all who were married and had kids. I admit, it was difficult at first for them to accept the huge age gap, especially speaking in terms of job position. I think what helped me out was "respect." I showed respect for them (their job, opinions, etc) and eventually, they returned the same to me. I think maybe your coworkers see you as a young, intelligent person fresh out of college, so jealously might be a factor. My best advice is to just do what you do and not worry about what anyone else thinks of you. As long as you have respect for yourself, your career and to your boss and coworkers as well, good things will happen your way. Also, your boss did hire you because obviously he saw potential in you and your capabilities. As long as your boss sees you as a good employer, that's all that matters. You're coworkers are not in charge of you.

    I would also definitely talk to your boss about why he is "outsourcing" some jobs that you should be doing. Approach him by showing initiative that you are willing to take on the projects he doesn't see you capable of, by telling him that you are willing to challenge yourself or at least give it a try. Good luck and hope this helps.

  2. Anonymous*

    Frankly, NOT being friends with people at work is a blessing. You should stay professional and respectful of everyone. If a few friendships develop eventually, that's great, but at work, business should always come first over personal relationships.

    Don't make the mistake of assuming everyone else is jealous of you because of your youth. Few people wish they could go back to being 22 again.

  3. Charles*

    AAM and OP;

    I see this as a different problem in that it sounds to me like the OP partly wants/expects work to be about "making friends" or "fitting in."

    That is NOT what work is supposed to be about. While it is great if you make friends at your place of employment, keep in mind work is, well, work.

    I would suggest the following to the OP:

    If this is your first job, then realize that this is your first job; that means that you will not be there forever.

    Realize that work is about work; it is not a place meant for making friends. Even if others are less than professional, you should always be professional.

    Realize that your workplace relationships are going to be very different from your other relationships. Not everyone is going to be your friend.

    Sorry, but your comment about "age discrimination" had me gag. Discrimination is a lot more than simply "they don't like me." Don't focus on age. It sounds to me like you are the one hung up on the age differences, not them. Perhaps, they are seeing, not a young person, but someone who is acting immature or full of herself. It is interesting that you started with pointing out that you have a degree – exactly how was that fact relevant to the issues?

    Don't look for excuses (they don't like me, they won't let me fit in, they don't know how to act around me, etc.) It seems to me that your attitude might be the problem; exactly how did you approach your boss with these issues? None of these are directly related to your work. (Quite frankly, If an employee approached me with some of the problems in the manner that you mentioned them I would find that employee exhausting to manage.)

    Six months is not that long a time, you still won't know everything, you should still be learning things. So, try to learn as much as you can while looking for the "next step" in your career. Get as much work experience from this job as you can. Yes, definitely, talk to your boss about more assignments, more responsibility, and talk less, preferably not at all, about the non-work-related stuff. (BTW, did you assume that he assumed you would not know what he wanted? Or did he tell you he assumed?) Also, accept it if your boss says that he feels you are not ready for an assignment, he is probably not judging you by your age, but rather judging you by your experience.

    Don't take everything so personally!

    Lastly, if you are really that unhappy (insert cliche here about happiness comes from within) then it is probably showing/affecting your work and it is time for you to move on, for your benefit as well as others.

    Sorry, to be harsh. But it does sounds to me that the OP has a some maturing to do.

  4. christie*

    I absolutely agree with Anonymous at 12:09.

    Work friendships are fine when they happen, but certainly not expected or required. You simply need to be professional and do what you need to do to work with these people.

    And jealous because you're young? Just no. That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. You couldn't pay me to go back to being 22 and "fresh out of college." I was so clueless back then about life in general(even though I thought I wasn't), still stumbling to find my way, and I'm so glad I'm pretty much done with the whole "paying my dues" thing. I'm 30, by the way, and I am not old.

    I have a really hard time believing these people are jealous. Annoyed because a recent grad is too big for their britches? Maybe. I've seen that happen a lot. But it's hard to say. The OP doesn't come across this way, so I'm thinking it's probably just misguided expectations for work relationships (unless of course, there is malicious behavior on the part of the coworkers, which would just be weird).

    That said, age could be a reason why the OP is feeling the way they're feeling. When I was in college, I worked as a server. And anyone who's ever worked in the restaurant industry knows that servers tend to run in packs. We worked together and socialized together. It was one big party, all the time. So of course, when I got my first "real" job out of college, I had expectations that I would be friends with my coworkers just like it was when I was a server- that we'd go to happy hour and party on the weekends. But, the professional world is not like working in a restaurant when you're in college. I'm not sure what the OP's prior experience is but I know my restaurant experience was a contributing factor in my misguided expectations for my professional life.

  5. Anonymous*

    I sense that there is friction between the OP and her co-workers. I don't know what caused it – if it's age even. It can also be where you just see someone and there's that unspoken, unexplainable dislike for the other person. But I sense it through the words we were given (Key words: were given).

    The OP did say one thing that I have yet to see anyone above write about, and it struck me weird when I read it. The OP wrote:
    "He [the boss] 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." Does anyone else find this interesting? The boss is somewhat acknowledging the age issue in saying that it does exist, but I think it's very weird what he apparently said. Since these older (older than 22, mind you) folks don't spend time outside work with the OP, they wouldn't know how to act around her in the office. Isn't that rather weird and a pathetic excuse? IF that's the case, then I think the office in whole needs an attitude readjustment.

    With that being said, we are still only getting one half of the story here. If only we can question some of the co-workers to find out why they are being accused of being rude to the point that "kindness can't even kill them."

    I do believe age discrimination can happen to the younger age group although legally it is intended for, as AAK writes, ages 40 and up. I see it as a mindset in which older people are quick to say that those at 22 years of age are still "stumbling" around, etc; just remember there are some twenty-odd year olds who know what they are doing compared to those older and supposedly wiser who don't. There are people who look down on the younger folks, and to say that it doesn't exist or it makes you "gag" just enables those who look down on them continue it. Perhaps it's not discrimination in the true sense, but it can cause just as much animosity if acted upon. I hope I'm making myself clear.

  6. christie*

    Anonymous at 1:44…

    While I agree that not all 22 year olds are "stumbling," they still do not have the experience of those who have put in years of work. Since you chose to quote my use of words, I feel the need to respond.

    When I said I was "stumbling" at age 22, I didn't mean that I didn't have a clue. I actually have some pretty impressive portfolio pieces from internships and my first job. I was very driven and thought I knew what I wanted and where I was headed. Bottom line? I didn't. I was smart and accomplished, but I didn't know everything. I still don't know everything. No one will ever know everything.

    But a 22 year old knows a lot less than someone with 10-15 years of career experience (generally speaking, there will always be people who don't have a clue, no matter what their age).

    But, in this instance, I think inexperience (and age) is a possible contributing factor to the OP's point of view- with the possibility of unrealistic expectations.

    But I do agree that what the manager said was just weird. I'm sorry, but at 30, I have no problem interfacing with people of all ages, older and younger, in the work place. And if these 30-somethings are really that inept in communicating with people outside of their age bracket, they need a serious reality check.

  7. Anonymous*

    I'm partially in agreement with the Anon at 1:44. I think that there can be a certain perception towards younger employees that can make it hard, but "discrimination" is a very strong term to throw around in that regard, especially when we are talking about workplace relationships. I was a manager at 22 in the hospitality industry with employees who were 10 to 20 years my senior; it was hard to gain their respect at my age, which was something I understood, though it was frustrating.

    I am only in my mid-20s now, but I find that people in this age range seem to have a special sense of entitlement when it comes to work. That's not to say all millenials are like that – I certainly dislike that label – or that people in their 30s and 40s don't often come across that way… but in the non-hospitality field I work in now, my 23-25 year old co-workers make work a place to talk about their hangovers, share far too much personal information and complain loudly when they don't receive a raise, despite doing little for one.

    That said, I hope the OP takes some of the advice offered and doesn't take too much offense. You are young, you will find that all jobs have problems, and hopefully you can find a nice balance between having co-workers you get long with and having a good job.

  8. Justin*

    It's hard to tell what exactly is going on here since the letter is unclear. I imagine it's both the LW and her coworkers together creating a bad situation. Obviously, something negative is being directed at her based on what the boss said, but the LW is probably not handling it in the best way possible (crying??!?!).

    That said, workers who are even a few years older than the youngest employee can be jealous or resentful of the younger colleague. Sure, they might not want to go back to being 22 themselves, but perhaps they were scrubbing toilets when they were 22 and resent the fact that someone so much younger than them can have the same job as they do (not sure if it's the same position exactly). Resentment towards younger workers can and does happen (as does an assumption that someone younger is naive, not capable or feels entitled) I have had it happen to me and I have seen it towards other younger workers. And the LW doesn't say she wants to be best friends with these women – her boss TOLD her that the poor treatment was due to her not being friends with the older coworkers.

    And Charles, as for outright age discrimination, well, if it were reversed, say a 45 year old in an office full of 20 and 30 somethings who was being treated poorly, I think you'd take it a little more seriously. I think we all should take things like this a little more seriously, since our country and our workforce are getting older.

    Also, most of the comments here are pretty condescending towards the LW(easy to do when someone is younger than you), and that certainly doesn't help anything.

  9. Anonymous*

    To Justin, I do think that perhaps it is a combination of bad attitudes that are making this "toxic" work environment for the OP. And this, in concert with the odd comments from the boss, should be something of concern to them; however, discrimination it may not be. The boss' limitations on her work would be more "discriminatory" than people not "liking" her.

    All workplaces have people who don't get along for a variety of different reasons. And the writer does come across as very… in-experienced, to put it nicely. I am only a few years older than the OP, so I'm certainly not in the "jealous" age range, and I feel that her reaction is a bit much. I know the need to fit in is strong and being isolated in the workplace can be really hard, but it isn't the same thing as being discriminated against.

  10. Anonymous*

    @Christie –

    Your 22 year old self a few years ago might be described as "stumbling." I'll take your word. And I'm sure you weren't/aren't/will not be alone. However, I'm trying to steer away from generalizations as Anonymous 2:13 wrote about his/her experience at that age. That person had gained work experience. I think everyone is different at that age (or any age), and it's not always good to put the whole age group in one category. To put them in the mindset that they know less than the 32 year old, for example, can be harmful not just to the 22 year old but also to the "table" and the ideas all bring to it. I'm not saying you called yourself, or anyone else, clueless at that age, but if we carry that idea in our heads about younger people, we might be missing out on what they have to say.

    I think the boss here is doing exactly that as he is outsourcing her work.

    One other thing in general: I do see lack of experience with our OP. Someone mentioned this earlier, but maybe s/he needs a little more explaining. OP – Don't take things too personally. I know it sounds difficult, but you have to let things roll off your back at times. You can learn this; it might take time. If they are being rude to you for whatever reason – your age if that may be it – it's not you, it's them! Whatever it is, they are creating it and reacting to it by being rude. It's your job to not let it bother you because you cannot change your age. Going home crying is not helping and you are giving them power. Like one person once told me – If you have a problem at home, leave it at home. If you have problems at work, leave it at work. So when the co-workers are rude, leave their rudeness at the office; as I said, it's their problem.

    I'm still going to put my disclaimer in saying we only have one side of the story here, and hopefully the OP can come back and fill us in a little more.

  11. Anonymous*

    Amon at 10:29…(this is Christie, I couldn't sign in for some reason)

    Actually my experience was pretty simar to the other anon who was at manager at 22. When I was 22, I already had one year of experience in my current field thanks to fabulous internships. Unfortunately, the economy wasn't great and I couldn't find a job in that field right away. So, I got a job in retail management. So, yes I was out in the real world with real work experience, just not in the exact field I wanted to be in, which is why used the term "stumbling." I got a job shortly and started what I considered my "real" career and incidentally, my first job in my field was also a marketing coordinator.

    My point in all of this is that no matter which way you slice it, someone who is that young does have less experience. But that doesn't mean they do not have value or skills that should be utilized (and I never indicated as such in any previous post). That said, I have seen first hand a lack of respect with some emloyees that age who definitely think they know more than they do and who refused to listen to senior coworkers. It's a two way street- both parties need to respect each other for what they bring to the table.

    As I said before, the OP does not come across as rude or entitled, just a bit green. I also hope we get more details on this, so we can figure out what's really going on (like if the outsourced work is actually suppposed to be the OP's and I'm guessing it is since it is a typical job function of the job title).

  12. fposte*

    Christie, I'm wondering if what the manager actually said was something along the lines of "These are older women with families, and they're not likely to be in the same social group as somebody your age either out of work or in it, so that's not how they're going to be able to relate to you here."

    In other words, I can think of relatively appropriate things to say that could have been reported as the manager's comments were.

  13. christie*

    @fposte, that would certainly make sense and seems like a reasonable thing to say. I do hope the OP comes back and gives us more insight about both that and the work outsourcing situation.

  14. Anonymous*

    I find examples like this an interesting aspect of how individuals, both employees and leadership, are challenged by the human relations involved in daily business activities. We all want to be part of a company with diverse workforce. Not only is it just simply the right way to conduct business but we need to be in order to be competitive. However, by bringing people together from a variety of different backgrounds it is impossible to avoid conflict. It is important to mention that conflict is not always a negative. We might disagree on how to approach a business need. If dealt with properly this conflict can lead to better results.

    In this example age is mentioned. However, you could insert any of the differences we all bring to the table. "coworkers don't like me because I'm………." It could be anything but by focusing on whatever it is that makes us different we lose sight of the real problems. In my opinion, it is a combination of many factors. Poor communication, personal insecurities, and the environment allowed to exist just to name a few.

    First, the leadership has failed to communicate the short and long-term goals of the company. It seems he has also failed to set clear expectations of individual team members and expectations of the team. It sounds like this employee has no idea of what his/her role is currently in the company or what it will be in the future. The tenured employees might not be sure of their role either. When employees are engaged and working together as a team there is no time for this negative conflict.

    Second, in this posting the employee never mentions any personal areas of opportunity. When the assignment was given to someone outside the company why would the employees age be the the topic of conversation with the boss? Everybody knows how old you are. You can't change it. Well in time you can. It takes a strong person to stand in front of anyone much less your boss and admit you may not be the most talented. To ask some hard questions that address a persons shortcomings. It can be just as hard on the management to answer these questions with honesty. Everybody involved must go out of their comfort zone. In addition, the tenured employees might feel their positions are in jeopardy. Not only their professional position but their social position with-in the company.

    Finally, the atmosphere could play a huge part in the relationships and results at any company. I have always attempted to create teams where constructive feedback is not feared but welcomed. Not only for my employees but for myself as well. The only way to grow as a team is for each member at every level to continually make improvements. If the leadership of a company is secure enough in their own abilities and doesn't set themselves on a pedestal then a true team can be achieved. The manager could play the role coach rather than referee.

  15. Productivity Guy*

    In regards to the outsourcing conversation, if the task being outsourced is a part of the employee's duties, the manager should:

    1. Talk with the employee about why he'd rather outsource
    2. Give the employee the responsibility to find/work with the outsourced consultant to get the job done.

    Otherwise, that doesn't sound like the manager has much confidence in the employee.

  16. Katie*

    this is a really old post, but i can *somewhat* relate to OP’s letter. i’ve been in a similar situation, where i felt that my age was somewhat held against me by other co-workers. i have been making my own living since age 17 and didn’t go to college per se, but i have valuable experience in the field i’m working in, and at my most recent job (which was a temporary assignment, by the way) i would often hear from one of my supervisors how “i’m still so young” and that “it’s not my time to work in a corporate environment yet”, that “i still have to earn”. funny enough, after my assignment ended abruptly, noone picked up the loose ends and co-workers were messaging me on facebook how much they missed me at work, and what a great job i did. in fact, i got two amazing contacts out of this gig, one of them being a very experienced and amazing man, who is really trying to help me and believes in me. i was somewhat disappointed by the way my former “team” treated me, but i was happy to see that the people who were influenced by my work in a direct way were appreciative, respectful and thought i did a great job – despite my age.

  17. Katie*

    by earn i meant learn… oops. also, what i was trying to say is that not every young/fresh-out-of-college person doesn’t know what “real” work life is like, but this was mentioned before so.. yeah. just wanted to share with those who subbed the comments! haha.

  18. Anonymous*

    just exactly what I’m facing now days. I heard some stupid comments today like “juniors should know their place”.
    you know it’s like so frustrating and so devastating especially when you’re trying to keep a high spirit and you are willing to work hard.

  19. Anonymous*

    I am in my 20s and every employee I manage is older than me, most are in their 40s-60s, are only two are late 20s. I am the youngest in my department..but I am the manager. This was challenging in the early months and still is. You need to remind yourself you are there to be as asset to the company and perform in the position your boss hired you for. I got to where I am today by working really hard and performing at a very high level. Age doesn’t matter when your CEO is looking at the bottom line. Work hard, earn respect, don’t get a big head. If you do those three things and people don’t like you, guess what…they never will. Get over it, move on and be even more awesome on your next project.

  20. Angry 27*

    Ive experienced this twice. Took a grievance to set my present older co workers straigt. The tactics they use: spreading gossip in the industry to bad mouth me. Saying i dont have the experience : which i didnt but had i the want to gain that experience but the knowledged locked up in their insecure minds, when i made mistakes i was told i dont listen. I did things by the book, my older manager said sometimes the rules need to be broken, gave my auth to an older more experienced person,this the woman who bad mouthed me and made the team who i was supposed to manage a war zone. The same woman is in jail now for stealing half a mil from the company. Her experience helped her steal after she turned my boss and team against me. Tired of HR and managers saying ‘ dont take it personal’ . It is personal when older folk attack your livehood. They know the game and make it unbareable so that you must leave. You stay you must humble yourself too their level. They go as far as whitholding info or training. Its like dogs, constant fighting. Wonder if the same thing will happen to their kids. Will they ever think back. Why be nasty to someone elses kid, or a person you do not know…
    They attack your confidence…

  21. Tiffany*

    Wow! So I’m the girl that wrote in this question. It’s been awhile…and I gladly don’t have that job anymore. The Monday after I wrote that I was let go because I just didn’t fit in. Sadly I saw it coming, coworkers un-friended me on Facebook. Who has maturity issues now? I’m still a little bitter about the way it all went down. Mainly because they could do no wrong (long smoke breaks and sitting there on YouTube all day instead of working) and they are still working there today. Personally I don’t think the company is headed in the right direction so I’m glad I got out when I did. I’ve held a job since I was 14 and I am aware that you can’t be friends with everybody. Some advice to the young trying to make it in the world. Be who you are. I know you are trying to figure it out when you’re in your 20’s but don’t change because you’re not fitting in. I say this because I am now in a world known company doing what I what I got my degree in and I’m a lot better off now. Yes having that job for 6 months helped me build my resume and I am grateful for that opportunity.
    Now a little side note to the critics. I’m not the 24 year old that got everything handed to me. I’ve worked my butt off at every job I’ve had and though my experience is limited, my work ethic has proven to be outstanding compared to many of my older co workers. When you have lived paycheck to paycheck most of your life and helped pay the bills when your 15, the last thing you are gettting a job for is to make friends.
    To finish up, hang in there kid. You’ll make it and it won’t be easy but it’ll be worth it.

  22. Anonymous*

    I have no comment about co-workers.. they almost always aren’t worth the trouble. You just have to deal with them for 8 hours a day.

    However, the fact that your boss is paying someone else to do your job is a slap in the face. On the other hand you can show how mature your are and leverage the situation to your advantage. Ask him to assign you to “assist” the external consultants.. this way you get the work experience he thinks you don’t have. AND you show him that you are a professional.

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