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Home | Got a Minute | Career advice | No. 35 – Help! My team members are shutting me out despite my attempts to bond

No. 35 – Help! My team members are shutting me out despite my attempts to bond

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27 October 2021

I have recently started as a manager in a new organisation with a very small team. I have tried to be friendly, warm and inclusive with the other team members such as asking if they would like to have lunch, organising morning tea, flowers for various celebrations and offering workplace flexibility. I know I’m meant to be bonding with my new team but I’m finding it very challenging. I walked in on an organised lunch today that I wasn’t invited to! What do you recommend?

My first thought when I read your letter was that I suspect the behaviour of your team reflects more on the culture of the organisation you have walked into rather than on you personally. It sounds like there is a general cynicism and distrust of managers in your business. They may have never experienced a manager who is genuinely trying to work collaboratively with them before and are waiting for the catch.

My advice is to step back and listen to them instead of providing solutions to things they may not need. See if you can find a way to speak with each of them individually and make a connection through listening to what is most important to them including what has worked well (and not so well) with their relationships with managers in the past. I would be asking them what they need from you as their manager and then likewise letting them know what you need from them. This will help develop a foundation of trust so that they will come to see – and appreciate – the changes you are wanting to introduce.

I work for a large government agency. The internal messaging, even before COVID-19, has been strong on staff wellbeing with flexible working arrangements available to us. I recently turned 60 and started working part-time, three days a week, under a formal policy that helps us transition to retirement. Shortly after, my new manager decided they were not happy with the arrangement and I was told it did not suit operational needs as they couldn’t fill the other two days with a new hire. I was given two weeks written notice to return to full-time work. What are your thoughts on organisations whose actions don’t match their policies and on the individuals in organisations who can override inconsistently applied policies?

Sometimes when I receive letters to this column, I need to read them three or four times to make sure I have read it correctly. Your letter was one of those. I am flabbergasted because what I think you are explaining is that you had a formal agreement as you wind down towards retirement, a new boss has come along and reneged on the agreement, and you are now back working full-time (presumably with full retirement around the corner).

The fact that your employer could not find someone to fill the two days per week you are not working is, quite frankly, not your problem. They really should have thought that through before approving the arrangement. Your employer has a policy in place for a reason – to help you to transition to retirement – and demanding you return to work full-time is hardly making that a reality. What would have happened if you had said no to coming back the extra two days?

You might like to think about whether you want to ask for this decision to be reviewed. You have done everything expected of you over a long career and many years’ service. It is unreasonable to expect that because they can’t find some alternative arrangement, you can’t transition to retirement as originally proposed.

I stopped full-time work as a business analyst about five years ago to focus on my family. Last year I returned to full-time study and completed a certificate IV in cybersecurity in July to complement my business degree. Since then, I’ve been applying for full-time work but I’m finding it very difficult to find a job. I applied for a return-to-work position but was unsuccessful and I’ve tried looking for contract and permanent roles with no success even though the market appears strong. I’m 52 years old and concerned if I don’t get back into the workforce soon it will be too late. I’m running out of ideas and would welcome any advice.

It’s hard to know exactly what you are coming up against, but you may well be experiencing ageism. The Australian Human Rights Commission recently published a report finding that 58 per cent of middle-aged people surveyed said they had experienced ageism in the last five years and 35 per cent said it directly related to being turned down for a job.

Ageism is incredibly difficult to overcome, and it shouldn’t exist of course, but clearly it does. My recommendation would be to lean in to what you can control and that is demonstrating in words (and in an interview) the depth of your experience and credibility. I know it sounds trivial but get someone to go through your CV and see if anything unnecessarily draws attention to your age that you may not have noticed. For example, you don’t need to list every single job you’ve had, just list the most recent and relevant roles. You also don’t need to say in a CV how old you are or what year you graduated from high school. Make sure you are only highlighting your current expertise around cybersecurity and business analytics. Good luck!

Send your questions about work, careers and leadership to Your name and any identifying information will not be used. Letters may be edited.

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