But I’m All Grown Up With a Job of My Own

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I work in a wonderful environment where everyone cares about everyone … a little too much. Sometimes, it gets in the way of our organizational success and personal development. I am the youngest in the organization by a decade. My colleagues (mostly) treat me with respect, but they keep projecting their insecurities. Most colleagues are worried I’m going to burn out, which is fair, but I have the energy and capacity they don’t have anymore. I also don’t have children or elderly parents or a spouse or a life. …

One colleague is keeping me from taking on new projects by emotionally manipulating me. She will say things like, “When you say yes to another project, you don’t consider how that makes ME feel” or “When you take on X task, you make me feel like I don’t do enough.” How do I gently say, “That is a YOU problem”? We work at a nonhierarchical organization. No one is asking her to do more, but she gatekeeps because she’s afraid an invisible someone will ask her to do more. I have a lot of compassion for her insecurity, but it is ridiculous that every team meeting ends up being about how my productivity/passion makes her feel sad. I fear if I say something, I will be maligned because everyone walks on eggshells here.

— Anonymous

Your colleague is definitely projecting her insecurities and fears about productivity onto you. She may be emotionally manipulating you, but you are also allowing yourself to be emotionally manipulated. I appreciate the kindness of wanting to approach her gently, and I encourage you to do so. She’s seeking reassurance. Share that taking on additional responsibilities has nothing to do with her. It is not a reflection of her work ethic or performance. You’re simply interested in developing a more robust skill set. You might even throw in some flattery by suggesting that she has set such a great example and you’re only trying to follow in her footsteps. You can’t control how she or your co-workers respond to this mild pushback or anything else, but the thing about eggshells is that they’re meant to be broken. As for not having a life, it’s definitely time to address that, too. Find a hobby! See a show. Take a class at the local community college. A person cannot nor should not survive on work alone.

I had a co-worker who spent all day going to other people’s offices and gossiping. He finally retired, and I breathed a sigh of relief, but he is still coming into the office at least once a week to gossip! I don’t have time for this. I have invented meetings just to get away from him, but then I have to leave my office to attend the pretend meetings. I don’t know what good reporting this to human resources would do since he no longer works here, so they have no authority over him. The building is open during the day; anyone can walk in.

— Anonymous

Sometimes, you have to be direct with people who are overstepping. This man is no longer your co-worker, so there is little downside to politely telling him you simply don’t have time to socialize when he comes in. Tell him you hope he is enjoying his retirement and wish him the very best in this new chapter of his life. If he continues to stop in, repeat yourself less politely and usher him out of your office.

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