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I'm looking for guidance on an issue that's been dividing my team, which is composed of 24 techie 20-somethings, in a very laissez-faire office with various inclinations all over the political and socio-economic spectrum. But we got one thing in common, and that is our love for our trade (Networking).

There are 2 particular members of the team who are very sensitive and opinionated, and as they have increasingly gained authority, they have started to impose demands on how the rest of us should behave.

Here are some examples:

  • No eating meat in the office: One of them had complained to our bosses that the eating of meat in the office (all allowed on our area, as we are very often short manned and need to eat in our desks) offended her, being a longtime vegan and it made her sick.
  • No jokes that could offend anyone from any minority: This one would seem a bit straightforward, but it stems from the fact that we have great banter with one openly gay coworker, who is often the first to crack jokes making light of his sexual orientation. All offenders got observations, and now making jokes about gays or something similar is now a suspension-worthy offense.
  • No music in the office: I'd agree with this one (they noted it bothered them to hear music in the background while on a phone call) but they themselves break this rule whenever the bosses are absent or not paying attention, which I consider to be a blatant display of the power they wield in the office.

Earlier in the week we'd gotten banned from drinking in the office (a special tea we have in our country, allowed anywhere and everywhere, Mate, perhaps you've heard of it), but they were also the first to break the rule.

Upper management doesn't seem to care about all this. The rules are just enforced when the 2 main people complain, and they are enforced, to their fullest.

One of these 2 main people is being promoted to team leader, a job she's proven not to be able to do effectively; we were all a very tightly knit group in the past, but we are concerned her increase in power will threaten our employment, and that the lightest of slights will mean our doom when personnel review comes by, which has torn the group apart slowly but surely. Morale is low and we need to find a solution, pronto.

How do we navigate this situation?

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    Your political ax to grind makes dealing objectively with this issue a challenge. I recommend you restate the issue and remove your political opinions and characterizations. – JonSG Jan 23 at 22:04
  • Let me try and see if this edit helps. This is very much a political issue but I can post it without that and see if it can get more traction. – Francisco Garcia Jan 23 at 22:06
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    I believe that edit has improved the question substantially. – JonSG Jan 23 at 22:10
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    If you are drinking Mate, that suggests you are in Argentina. The idea of a vegan Argentinian is .... boggling. – Martin Bonner Jan 24 at 12:45
  • Those damned zurditos con osde... I think the meat point is really stupid, i wouldn't care and i'd start looking for another job ASAP, because it seems the company is being taken by some people that lives in a way i can't share. Music and jokes are understandable. In the company i'm currently working we also have forbidden the mate, just because the owner doesn't like it. They are not core things, but they make you feel more and more uncomfortable. You got good ideas here and i hope your job can get better, – Sebastian Aguerre Jan 24 at 13:44
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Immediate actions

I'll concentrate on one claim in your post:

team leader, a job she's proven not to be able to do effectively

What factual evidence do you have that this person will not do her job effectively?

Think of that. Solicit opinions and factual support from your colleagues. Combine them into a petition to your upper management that would advise against making this person your team leader. Have it in written and signed. Try not to include emotional and unverifiable claims, but keep it factual. Send the petition to your upper management and hope they are open to hearing you.

Long-term actions

Other parts of your post give examples of conflicting office cultures, but your previously tightly-knit group has no mechanisms of maintaining your office culture. You now need one.

If drinking mate, eating meat and listening to music is not regulated by your company policy, have it regulated. Draft and propose a policy that would explicitly allow or disallow those behaviours, and specify how this policy can be changed once it comes into force (for example, by having 75% of peers voting to change). Poll your colleagues and have the policy approved by management.

If some of your colleagues are unhappy with the policy, point at mechanisms to change it.

  • I like this, very much. Thank you for your input, I'll mark you as the answer for the time being. – Francisco Garcia Jan 23 at 22:40
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    while this might work for OP, In my case when we wanted to oppose in similar manner considering the similar behaviour from one of the employee we instead were accused of groupism and this made our day-to-day work difficult. This approach would succeed only if higher management atleast has a mindset to consider this appeal and not think otherwise like that opposing group is doing it out of some other motives. – nightfury101 Jan 24 at 11:08
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In general: Do what you can to make your coworkers feel comfortable without significantly changing your own life. If you feel like the requests being made by your coworkers significantly hinder your own life, then don't do them (except where prohibited by company policy (not the whims of your teammates)).

In specific:

1) Regarding the vegan, if you like meat then just eat meat. If this person complains to you, then ask them to kindly mind their own business, or suggest they raise the issue with HR. The thing is, in most locales, eating meat is socially accepted and not a problem at all. Any HR person worth their salt will laugh your teammate out of their office, and perhaps out of their job altogether for being needlessly abrasive. Conversely, if this teammate brings their anti-meat complaint to HR and HR reprimands you for it, then you know where company policy stands, and you can choose what to do from there (finding another job which isn't so ridiculous is probably high on that list).

2) Regarding making off-colour jokes, you probably shouldn't be doing that anyway in the office, at least not in public enough for those not "in on the joke" to "get it". You never know who might be listening; in particular I'd be afraid of an HR rep getting an excuse to call me an "-ist" (racist, sexist, homophobe, what have you), as that's an easy excuse for termination of employment (or at least precludes you from any sort of management role where you might have those sorts of people as subordinates), even if the comments are made in jest. That said, there is an argument to be made that sharing off-colour jokes builds camaraderie. In which case, do it in private, and only with those who you are absolutely sure are "in on the joke" (i.e. won't get offended). To which, my suggestion would be, if you have a chat application (e.g. Slack) that you use within your team, create a chat group composed of the people who won't complain, and feel free to chat there. Eventually, what will likely happen is this teammate (the one complaining about the jokes) will realize they are being excluded from team events, hanging out with the teammates, and so on; if everyone goes for beers after work and they're not invited, they will eventually notice. At which point you can say to them something like: "sorry, we as a group are not comfortable with associating with you except as a function of our common work situation", and that's that.

3) Regarding music: Use headphones. Listening to music with headphones should not allow those around you to hear your music, and if it does, then either buy better headphones or turn the volume down. Nobody likes listening to someone else's music, in any situation. Sorry, this one's on you. If you can't be bothered to respect the sound comfort of others by wearing headphones sufficient to block the sound, then no music for you.

4) As for one of these people on path to become a team leader, you (your teammates as a group) should meet and discuss with the person (people) making the consideration for promotion of this person and air your grievances. Explain that this person makes you uncomfortable (importantly, explain why, using examples of what they have said/done that you take issue with; in cases such as off-colour jokes which may be less-than-safe-for-work, it's unwise to state it as such, but something like "we feel that Jane negatively impacts our team efforts to build camaraderie and morale" should be sufficient) and you are not comfortable with that person as a team leader. You should not say it exactly as such, but you should strongly imply (as much as you can without being overtly aggressive) that if this person becomes promoted to your team leader, then the group of you will all rather quit than work under this person's leadership. That should get the message across; if a new team leader's team all quits at once (leaving that person without a team), that's not someone the company wants as a team leader. Whether to have this airing of grievances as a meeting or as a written statement is up to you; I'd say the correct answer is probably "both".

  • I'm getting some excellent feedback here, thank you for your input, and I agree with number 3, it doesn't bother me not to be able to put music when things are going slow, it bothers me they do it and mgmt doesn't bat an eye, but we (the not-them) do it and we're disrespecting others. But I know where you're coming from and I won't push the issue. – Francisco Garcia Jan 23 at 22:56
  • @FranciscoGarcia If they do it and don't get in trouble, but you do it and you do get in trouble, this sounds like an issue of favouratism. I would raise this with your manager and see what he says. If you don't notice an improvement, this could be a sign that you are looked down on, and may (likely will) impact your probability of getting a raise/promotion/recognition/etc in the future. I would start looking for other opportunities based on that alone. – Ertai87 Jan 24 at 15:11
  • I know a company where (4) happened. The team wanted one of theirs as a team leader, but management decided to take an outsider, that outsider micromanaged too much, and management didn't step in. They are in shatters right now, over a course of 6 months 20 developers left out of a team of 30. All new projects came to a grinding standstill since the exodus began. – Alexander Jan 25 at 14:27
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You have to keep all these issues separated, otherwise from an exterior point of view it will (an honestly it does when reading your post) sounds like you are just trying to prove that these people are bad people, which might be the case but is unprofessional (and will be regarded by your management as such). So here are the 3 separated issues:

  1. Useless rules imposed on you and your team annoy you.
  2. Useful rules are not respected by some members of your team.
  3. Someone incompetent is being promoted to team leader.

Don't mix all these together, start by 3 and 2 then keep 1 for later.

Point 2. seems to be the easier to solve and the more informative: if person A is forbidden to to something, I don't understand how upper management would succeed to allow person B to do it. If they indeed succeed then there is a real problem and I don't see how 3. and 1. would be ever solved.

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IMHO,

Changing this particular situation would take a team effort. if these black sheep hinder the entire team productivity , they should be removed from it.

As i understand, no one gave flying f` for any particular complaint that didin't
concerned everyone AND HOPED THAT IT WOULD NOT affect them personally.

Well, time is up, ever you all going to combine into team effort or you will be picked up one by one (fired or nullified)

  • I think I understand what you mean. What would 'combining into a team effort' entail? We have a group of people very much in line with not seeing her rise to a leadership position, a sizeable one at that, but how does one propose this to the project director? Thank you for your input, btw. – Francisco Garcia Jan 23 at 22:12
  • @FranciscoGarcia I would suggest starting with group petition to management with list of grievances toward these two, each of them personally with individual complaint. Be ready to have your value compared to their value. Perhaps extreme measure would be required i.e. Italian strike or mass resignation. Or, you can leave it as is and find less toxic workplace cause this one sounds like its going to change if nothing is done – Strader Jan 23 at 22:18
  • Thank you for your answer, although I am not happy with it, the group agrees this is what we'll do if push comes to shove. Have a good day @Strader. – Francisco Garcia Jan 23 at 22:41
  • Equal rites for sheep !!!! (and I do mean rites ;-) – Mawg Jan 24 at 8:26
  • @FranciscoGarcia i am not happy with available options as well, but imho, situation is very grim and at current stage requires these reactions – Strader Jan 24 at 15:14
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Sounds like it is time for a little malicious compliance, and fighting fire with fire.

For the off color jokes, you can have your openly gay teammate go to HR and tell them that they are creating a hostile work environment by causing trouble every time anyone mentions his sexuality, and that this makes him feel singled out.

For the Vegan, there are certain vegitables that smell badly, so complaining about broccoli, cabbage, et cetera, would be fair play.

Regarding the music, report them every time they do this, make sure everyone joins in the fun.

For the one who was promoted. Follow every company rule and guideline TO THE LETTER.

This is where you can elevate malicious compliance to an art form.

  • Never expedite anything when it concerns this person.
  • Start quoting the employee handbook chapter and verse.
  • Constantly ask for clarification.
  • Go to the promoted lead with every concern, no matter how trivial.
  • Report them both whenever they step so much of a toe out of line.

Otherwise, as you predict, they will go mad with power and get even worse.

They've set up an us vs them situation, you need to respond in kind.

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