I recently graduated from college and was able to get a job not too long after; I've been at work for 3 months so far at an underwriting firm as a in-house IT/Excel help desk who helps with odd jobs (mostly clerical) around the office when there's no IT stuff to do. While it's a nice and flexible place, there's a decent age gap between myself (23) and a considerable portion of the office. The minimum distance between myself and the next-youngest person is about 10+ years, and from where I'm seated in the office, I'm surrounded by the underwriters who are in their mid/late 30s and upwards.

While I'm obviously not at work to socialize, I feel really disconnected from the rest of the office, and despite a "nice"/polite exterior, some of the underwriters show light disdain for the clerical part of the office (which I'm grouped under) because some of the purely clerical staff have... personality traits that clash with the underwriters. The clerical staff are mostly the (relatively) younger part of the office as well.

They underwriters aren't nasty, but it's generally uncomfortable listening to that and hearing conversations about their kids' sports teams, vacation getaways, millennials, social obligations, etc. I don't have the same social safety net I had when I was a student, so my question is how can I personally deal with this? I don't plan on staying here forever but I do like working here and want to stay at least a year or two.

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    Talk to the underwriters. Try and make friends with them. Allow them to realize you maybe aren't like the rest of the clerical staff. Despite the age differences, you will most likely be able to find common interests among your coworkers. – Chimera May 26 '16 at 19:39
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    Definitely be friendly and try to develop a rapport with them. Find out what their interests are, and discover which ones you share. If you succeed at this, then you can rib back at them when they start complaining about millennials. Just ask them how much student debt they had after college, and they'll typically shut up pretty quickly after that. – MK2000 May 26 '16 at 19:58
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    Unlike college, which is fairly homogeneous in age & social status, the workplace is full of people from different ages and backgrounds. These differences can cause conflict even when they ideally shouldn't. You may not even like everyone. Moving to a new workplace likely won't change this fact, so it's important to deal with it and learn now, using the strategies others have mentioned here. – mcknz May 26 '16 at 22:15
  • "your colleagues are occasionally chatting about their personal lives and you take this as a personal affront" - Obnoxious, baseless assumption. I've said that their chatter isn't merely limited to topics I have no connection to and is often resentful of the clerical side. Other users have provided more constructive answers. – user50003 May 31 '16 at 12:45

It's important to be friendly. Take an interest in their kid's activities when they happen to talk about them.

For example, a coworker's 5 yr old daughter loves to play Minecraft, and takes horseback riding lessons. Every once in a while I'll ask him what his daughter's built in the game, for example. He will show us pictures of her riding various very large horses and I'll ooh, and aah at how obedient and well trained the animal is, etc. I'm not really interested, but I like to be on friendly terms with everyone.

Another coworker's 2 yr old daughter loves to play educational games on her tablet. I'll discuss the impact of technology on children with him, how long kids that age should spend in front of the screen, etc.

Try to do something similar. Simply be polite, listen attentively, and make some positive/inquisitive comments. Once people open up to you it might surprise you to hear that they play video games, go to concerts you might be interested in, or share some other one of your passions.

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  • I think I didn't add enough information to the OP. The underwriters don't talk to me; they talk among themselves and I'm generally invisible unless one of the clerical people is by me for one reason or another. I'm just in that close of a proximity to them that I can hear them. They also definitely don't talk about how their kids love to play Minecraft, but they definitely gossip about work things (e.x., other underwriters in other national offices). – user50003 May 26 '16 at 20:14
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    @jmarkman - those were examples. They don't talk to you because you don't talk to them. You have to just walk up to these people and say hello. Ask them how their day is going. Crack a joke. Maybe bring in some donuts one day and leave a friendly note on the box that they're from you, and they should help themselves - they will come over to thank you and it will give you an opportunity to chat. Make a comment about the leading news story. Sure, they're older, but they're still people - just talk to them. – AndreiROM May 26 '16 at 20:17
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    Yep, make an effort, be a nice guy, you don't have to be their best buddy, just the nice chap working over the aisle. I worked at a place as an engineer where the software and engineering sections used to badmouth each other. I just stayed out of it, befriended some of the software guys minimally, and when ever I needed something from them for a client, I didn't have to jump through a bunch of hoops like the other engineers. – Kilisi May 26 '16 at 21:38
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    Being interested in people's stories about their children is always a good way to make friends: all parents love talking about their kids. But I totally agree that "just talk to them" is the answer - I've spent the last 4 years working for companies where I've been either the youngest, or one of a couple of younger members of the team, and by far the best way to handle it is just to be friendly and ignore the age gap. 2 years after leaving the company I still consider several ex colleagues to be friends, despite some of them having children close to my age – Jon Story May 27 '16 at 14:47