Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shearing the herd

Question 1.

I just started a new job that I love...except...well, it turns out that the office is fairly clique-ish. The departments are competitive and don't socialize with each other. If I don't go to my department's social events, my team talks about me and makes me feel guilty. I really don't want to leave this job (not that I have any other offers), but this is really odd.

No, it isn't, sadly. Unfortunately, what you are describing is all too common, particularly in stressful or competitive environments, which includes almost every workplace in this economy. When people are afraid of being "picked off," they behave like many animals that live under the constant threat of predators. They form herds. Unlike most prey, though, humans have the added predatory instinct. As a result, the prey is able to demand allegiance to the herd at the threat of hunting its own. I imagine this is what sheep would do if they had thumbs and could use weapons.

You are going to have to decide whether you want to play along. Despite your menacing co-workers' inferences, it isn't necessary to join the herd. Every herd of sheep has a sheep dog. True, the sheep dog is a bit lonelier than the sheep, but no one every grabs a sheep dog and shaves it bare. Plus, sometimes the sheep dog gets to sleep inside the barn. I'm basing all my farm knowledge on movies and cartoons, but you can probably get my drift. Besides, the likelihood that anyone reading this column has personal knowledge of sheep herding is so remote that I'm not even sure why I cited my dubious sources.

If you decide to leave the protection of the herd, be prepared to work harder and make less mistakes. Most sheep don't have the individual courage or group organization to actively damage your reputation at work. If they do, then you actually don't have a herd environment; you have a royal court environment, which is a completely different situation. You haven't mentioned any "leaders" so I think we are working with a herd. If you want to be a good sheep dog:

  • Do your job well
  • Know your boss so well that you can read non-verbal cues and predict requests
  • Pursue responsibility and leadership
  • Don't let your emotions interfere with your productivity
  • Look for other sheep dogs
I promise you that there are other sheep dogs. You just haven't found them yet because of the ratio. If there truly aren't any other people who feel that shunning coworkers for going home to watch the talent-search show du jour in their jams instead of going out to a bar and pretending to like each other is wrong, then start meticulously recording this personal hell so you can sell the book rights later.

Question 2.

What bothers you more about the "Twilight" franchise: the horrible writing or the subtle encouragement of implied helplessness that it sends to women?

Can't it be both? Actually I'm not going to touch this one. Frankly, much better writers than I have tackled this subject with great aplomb and what I'm sure was painful research. I won't detract from their work by adding to the cacophony. Also, it's not like I spend my days reading Anais Nin.

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