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Respect For Elders Only Goes So Far

I’m wondering about something that at my workplace and how to handle it.

I’ve just started working as a counselor in a large office. There are a lot of people who have been here for decades and, at thirty five years of age, I’m one of the youngest. I’m letting my grey hair grow out a little, I dress very conservatively and professionally, and I am polite and courteous at all times. In spite of this though, I’ve encountered a few people who seem to think that they need to explain random things to me “in case I don’t know better”.

One woman pointed out that I should wear my hair up all the time. Another prefers specific jewelry on me. One of the men made his opinion on hair and nail care known in no uncertain terms (my nails are short, clean, and have very sheer/pale pink polish and my hair is a long bob that’s always tidy). Again, I look professional and well groomed. My clothing choices are usually pant or skirt suits or knee length dresses with hosiery. I do not wear bright colours, loud patterns, short skirts, or sleeveless or low cut tops and I leave my red lipstick at home.

I am extremely respectful. I never let doors slam behind me, I always hold them and let others go before me and so on. I do not interrupt people or bring smelly food for lunch. I wash dishes that have been left in the sink by others. I try to always be at my best here.

But here is what I’m wondering about. Aside from a few spots reserved for managers, parking is not assigned and it’s on a first come, first served basis. I got to the office early today (as usual) and, as I was backing into a spot, a man approached me. I rolled down my window to see what he wanted and he said that he’s not trying to be “anal” but I should be respectful of my elders and park farther down the lot. It was raining and I had a lot of things to carry. Regardless, I moved four spots down to keep him happy.

I completely understand the importance of respecting one’s elders. But our office has an absurd amount of staircases and everyone here can manage them just fine. We do not have senior citizens working here and we have a lot of reserved spots for clients in front of the building. No one needs special parking privileges in employee parking. And our parking lot is really small so parking at the end isn’t a big deal at all.

What I’m annoyed by is how this guy felt that it was his place to condescendingly tell me what he thought I should do when there’s no policy for it. Am I over reacting by being annoyed? And should I make a point of always parking farther away even though no one else does? Also it should be noted that this guy doesn’t normally work from our office; he’s just here because it’s quieter here than at his normal one today. I did ask my boss about this and he confirmed that there are no parking “rules” here and that it’s the first he’s heard of the issue. It kind of felt like the guy was just trying to save a good spot for his buddy.

So I need advice on how to grow a polite spine here for when these things happen. Should I comply with the “suggestions” from my “elders” or should I just politely carry on and do my job? I don’t want to upset anyone but I also have the right to not be bothered too. I am always open to legitimate feedback but some of the things I’m being “advised” on are a little absurd and completely unnecessary. What would be a good way to handle future “suggestions” without ruffling feathers please? 0314-16

In regards to comments about your appearance, the only opinion that matters is your boss’s and if he doesn’t appear to have an issue with your workplace attire, you can smile at the silly comments of your co-workers and then completely flush it out of your mind.   Frankly, to me you sound a bit defensive so you haven’t learned yet to be inwardly confident of your choices of clothing, hygiene and how you behave in the office and so you get rattled by every comment you hear.   A significant part of having a polite spine is having the inner conviction that you live your life based on good principles that then translates into having a calm yet polite spine.

As for the co-worker who opined that for you to show proper respect for your elders by parking farther down the lot, I would have sweetly asked him, “I will move but I have a lot to carry into the building and am in need of a gentleman to help me. Would you know of one?”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Princess Buttercup March 22, 2016, 12:19 pm

    Comments about appearance for me would be met with, “well my appearance does not seem to break any rules in the employee handbook. My supervisor has not said anything is wrong. And I’d appreciate if you would focus on your work and not on my body because you are making me uncomfortable and that sort of thing is supposed to be reported to HR/the boss.”

    With a statement like “I’m not trying to be anal, but park somewhere else.” I would besically ignore him instructing me to park somewhere else because he has no right to do anything of the sort. I would respond, “I really don’t think it is appropriate for you to talk to me about your private body parts, if you don’t mind I have a lot of stuff to carry in before I get on to my work day.” This admonishes him for inappropriate words for the work place, in all restatements and makes it clear you have a lot to do and no time to even consider his out of place suggestions.

    If you let everyone treat you like the stupid child you will never have any respect at work and will never advance in the company. It is important to stand up for yourself and make it clear you have no time for inappropriate comments from others.

    • ketchup March 22, 2016, 3:54 pm

      I’d advise against defending yourself. Bean-dip instead.

      • AnaMaria March 24, 2016, 10:21 am

        OP can make the final call, but I see no problem with her being direct and saying that people commenting on her appearance shouldn’t comment about her body. Young women on the dating scene are specifically advised that it is a red flag in a relationship when a date says, “You need to wear your hair up/down for me,” or “You need to dress this way for me.” It’s a sure sign that this person thinks they own you and have a right to control you. If it’s not appropriate in a dating relationship, then it is all the less appropriate in a workplace (assuming the OP isn’t violating the dress code or wearing something explicitly offensive- even then, there are right and wrong ways to correct someone).

        As long as the OP uses a polite, professional tone, it is fine for her to tell her coworkers that the comments about her appearance are not acceptable, and if they continue she will take them to HR. If the comments get out of control and she goes directly to HR, the first question they will ask her is, “Have you told them these comments bother you?”

    • Leah March 22, 2016, 8:58 pm

      “Anal” doesn’t only mean the body part and isn’t inappropriate here!

    • Ashley March 23, 2016, 3:49 pm

      You’re literally the first person I’ve ever seen refer to the word anal as inappropriate in the context it was used in the story by OP…

    • M March 23, 2016, 6:40 pm

      I have trouble believing that you are always so perfectly poised and articulate in such situations as this. It is one thing to say that you “should always stand up for yourself” but office politics and general societal norms still dictate that people, especially women, do not always have the freedom to say what they want. I worked for a horrendously sexist man at one point when I was in my early 20s. It was a mechanic trade school thing (I was not paid and required to buy tools that I didn’t keep unless I finished the program) oriented around racecars-very technical and high pressure. I was excellent at the job and worked my ass off, especially when compared to my male coworkers, yet I was constantly getting nit picked for everything. One day it was my hair not being tied back enough-he was specifically taking about the little baby hairs that flyaway whenever long hair is up for more than a couple hours. Another day he handed me his trash. I had a few golden coworkers that did everything they could, but I was the only female and I was the youngest, so most of them took the opportunity to make my life hard when they could, especially the guys my age that felt threatened by me. And before you tell me I should have gone higher up, I’ll tell you I did. I talked to HR every month at least once, and she would tell me she was sorry but boss was a friend of the main investors, so bummer. So I’m not getting paid AND I’m literally being treated like dirt with boobs, so therefore dirt you can make inappropriate comments about. I did everything I could, and I still only made it 9 months through the 12 month program before I had to threaten to sue, and then they gave me my full accreditation with early graduation. Sexism is strong and real, and not always dealt with by using your “polite spine.” Sorry for the rant, but its really unfair to come to your conclusion off two paragraphs. I’m sure if it was a matter of a couple stern words the issue wouldn’t have been written in.

      • Mizz Etiquette March 24, 2016, 3:21 pm

        Wow. Bitter about that still?

        You don’t know the OP at all. It’s not fair to project your bad experience on to her.

        • Anon March 25, 2016, 7:55 am

          I don’t think M’s criticism was directed toward the OP.

          • Jessica March 25, 2016, 9:32 am

            I dont think it is either, I was a female doing a mechanic apprenticeship. It was so terribly sexist apart from a few of my coworkers being nice, that I just did 1.5 years and I had had enough.

  • iwadasn March 22, 2016, 1:12 pm

    Something about this story just doesn’t add up. As Admin pointed out, OP’s hyper-defensiveness seems to imply that she’s NOT secure that she’s dressed professionally, and if so many people in the office try to correct her on her appearance, I can’t help thinking that they must have a point. If it were one or two coworkers making comments, I’d say ignore them and brush it off, but it the whole office is telling you you’re dressed unprofessionally, then you might need to reassess your definition of “professional.”

    • LadyV March 23, 2016, 8:43 am

      iwadasn, you must have only worked in really great offices. Trust me, in many businesses, no matter how a younger person (especially female) is dressed, there will be people who would be critical just to put him/her in his/her place and establish the pecking order. In an office like that, a woman could show up wearing a Chanel suit, stockings, and modest pumps, and would STILL get called out on something.

      • AnaMaria March 25, 2016, 9:51 am

        Agreed- it’s crazy how fast things can go to your head in the workplace, even if you know you are doing your job correctly. I taught in a school a few years ago where another teacher yelled at me for 1) handing a middle school student a washcloth and asking them to wipe down his table after lunch. “That’s NOT his job!” (The student had already willingly wiped half the table), and 2) Because my high school drama students were on the stage practicing a skit at “not learning” (how else are they supposed to learn drama?!) and 3) for allowing a ninth grader to go to the health office to get some ibprofen (she was there and back in about three minutes) because “she just wanted to get out of class.” These are just a few examples and I’m not talking about polite conversation- she had no problems screaming at me in front of the kids or going to administration and exagerrating about me. I knew this was all crap and other teachers all told me that she could be a real bully and they didn’t want their own children in her class, but it left me wondering if I was really a competent teacher. The next year I went to grad school to get licensed as a public school teacher and I was shaking uncontrollably when my advisor came to evaluate me in student teaching because I was sure she was going to confirm everything my ex-colleague had said about me. (She didn’t- I got an A in student teaching!)

      • Calli Arcale March 28, 2016, 11:21 am

        “Trust me, in many businesses, no matter how a younger person (especially female) is dressed, there will be people who would be critical just to put him/her in his/her place and establish the pecking order.”

        That was the impression I got too. This doesn’t sound like correcting her on inappropriate attire or behavior; it sounds like bullying. They are trying to cut her down in order to maintain the status quo. Honestly, my advice would be for OP to get her resume in order and start looking for other work if it is at all possible. That sounds like an unpleasant place to work.

  • Gabriele March 22, 2016, 3:20 pm

    As a newcomer she may be experiencing the established ‘pecking order’ and while some comments might seem to be well-meaning, they can also be a way to try to establish superiority. Those with the longest tenure may be concerned about their job security since there can be a salary ceiling which makes the best-paid the most threatened.
    Her youth could also represent subtle threats since she probably seems to have more energy, stamina and other non-personal attributes which could make her elders feel threatened.
    I think since the LW has already done all she can to present an inobtrusive appearance, those who want to show their ‘authority’ are forced to do so with very petty details.
    If the person recommending that she wear her hair up also wears her hair up, then it’s someone trying to establish her ‘authority’ over hair styles.
    A simple response that she (LW) had been advised to choose a simple hairstyle which required no
    maintenance while at work and that a shorter style was easier to keep clean and neat.
    Comments on other personal appearance items could be dealt with the same way. That a career counselor (who could really be anyone with good advice) had recommended ____ and you had followed that advice for the job interviews and felt your appearance had contributed to your hiring.

    I also think that since many of the other employees are older they may transfer conflicts within their personal life and deposit them on the LW. People who are used to running everyone’s lives in their domestic circle don’t stop there or if they can’t run things at home, they bring that baggage to work with them.
    Older does not mean Wiser is a good mantra….

    The LW may have more/better academic achievements or more up to date training. That can raise fears as well.
    I would also add for the LW that the outspoken ones aren’t speaking for everyone, only themselves. They, in fact, may not be either respected or liked by other co-workers who have learned to ignore them. But they won’t take sides.
    Good luck, just remember you were hired for your professional qualifications not your fashion sense or willingness to follow stupid, unsolicited advice.

  • Mike March 22, 2016, 6:01 pm

    The old saying goes, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Sometimes, it’s the best weapon, too.

    The next time someone makes an outrageous comment to the OP, she should burst into laughter. Then, as she walks off, she could say, “That’s too funny. Thanks for making my day.”

    I suspect that her rude co-workers would get the message.


  • Leah March 22, 2016, 9:00 pm

    “Anal” doesn’t only mean the body part and isn’t inappropriate here!

    • Lindsay March 25, 2016, 11:34 am

      This usage of “anal” derives from the Freudian “anal-retentive.” I assure you it is indeed ultimately an anatomy reference.

  • Just4Kicks March 23, 2016, 4:12 am

    I used to work in an office where the oldest salesman we had was in his mid 60’s.
    If anyone pointed out a mistake to him, say on his paperwork, they were met with a very frosty, “I’ve been doing this for way longer than you, I KNOW what I’m doing!!!”
    Okay, sorry.
    Then our ancient computer system was updated, and guess who would pull “the youngsters” aside and ask for help?

  • Marozia March 23, 2016, 5:08 am

    This is the reason why I believe uniforms would stop this blithering insanity.
    OP, if your employer is happy with the way you dress, then tell everyone else to carry on with their own business and not to worry about yours (“polite Marozia”). “Evil Marozia” would pepper that with profanities and obscenities!!

  • Archie March 23, 2016, 9:34 am

    So here’s the deal – someone pointed this out to me a while back.
    You walk into a conf room, you’re a woman. All the seats are taken. A male colleague offers his seat because he’s being considerate. Guess what? he’s out of line. If you really want to enforce corporate policy, there should be no gender discrimination.

    In the same way – there should be no age discrimination. Their age and physical capabilities should not matter unless they get in the way of them doing their job. As long as the company has done its promised deal to provide proper access for any physical limitations (enough reserved parking spots close to doors, enough handicapped stalls in a restroom) – parking in an unmarked spot is just fine.

    Imagine if the OP were to highlight that she, as a younger person, sharper and more mentally astute is better ABLE to do some of the jobs. What would that kick up? that doens’t fly, does it?

  • Dawn March 23, 2016, 11:05 am

    Good lord. I would reply to every personal “attack” (because that’s what they are) with, “I’m good,” and leave it at that.

    As for the guy in the parking lot? I wouldn’t have responded at all. I’d have just rolled my window up, turned the car off and GOT OUT. If he stuck around to watch and make any more comments, my only response, while holding ALL the items I was bringing in as well as an umbrella, would have been, “Are you kidding me?” Then I’d have shaken my head in disbelief and walked off.


  • Roslyn March 23, 2016, 11:46 am

    I found out early in my life that working in an office environment is not a good fit with my personality.

    To me it sounds like good old fashioned establishing a pecking order. I see it in my chickens. The young hen gets chased and pecked until she finally gets the gumption up to not take it anymore. She has to stand up for herself, but eventually fits in and everything settles, if she doesn’t fit in, the stress can kill her.

    In the Tv show “The Office” there is a scene that comes to mind where Kelly is talking smack to Pam all day over the guys ping pong games. Pam was coming out of the bathroom and Kelly going in…they both stood there looking at each other when Pam stepped back and let Kelly walk into the room in front of her. Kelly gave her a very smug look and said “Yea…that’s what I thought”. Pam gave her the upper hand with her passive actions.

    Picking on your clothes and hair and jewelry is easy, if you go to HR then they know you may be a tattle tale. If you take it, they know they can boss you about. If you DO go to HR it is easy to turn what they actually said into a “oh! I was just complimenting your clothes/hair/etc” and blow it off that way. If you are following company rules you have nothing to worry about. But I would come up with something to say that lets them know they don’t get to order you around, being in an office it has to be firm but civil. The reindeer games in those environments are endless!!

    The parking guy?? People are really really weird about “their” parking spaces. He was being anal…That’s the time for the sweet smile and “parking is not assigned according to age.”

    • Just4Kicks March 23, 2016, 2:35 pm

      @Roslyn: your mention of your chickens reminds me of a story that my dad used to tell us.
      His grandparents had a farm he would visit every summer, and my dad when he was a boy used to have fun chasing the chickens around.
      He would scare them and then they wouldn’t lay eggs.
      His grandma having enough of this behavior, called my dad over one afternoon and said “come on, Johnny, you’re going to help me make supper!”
      She then grabbed one of the chickens, and a hatchet, and killed the chicken in front of my dad.
      To this day, my dad will not eat chicken, because the image of the headless chicken running around until it died scarred him for life.
      He didn’t chase the chickens after that.

  • BagLady March 24, 2016, 12:47 am

    Parking lot guy’s “respect your elders” sounds eerily like “know your place.” Imagine if OP were a person of color and were told she was expected to save the “good” parking spaces for the white folks. OP’s situation is not a case of discrimination as defined by law, but it is still all kinds of inappropriate for an employee to order a colleague to vacate a first come, first serve parking space for no other reason than she’s younger.

    I’d be tempted to say to lot guy, “Oh, parking spaces are assigned based on age? HR told me they are first-come, first served, except for the ones reserved for bosses, clients and the disabled. I’ll have to check with them and make sure I didn’t miss something. For now, though, I’m keeping this space because I have a lot of stuff to carry. Care to give me a hand?”

    That said, humans are creatures of habit, and we tend to have our preferred spaces in the parking lot, seats at the table for meetings, etc. I have never seen anyone throw a hissy because someone beat them to their accustomed space — because they’re just that, accustomed, not assigned.

    Give me a good reason for not taking someone’s accustomed parking space — e.g., she needs to get out quickly at the end of the day to pick up her kids before the daycare closes — and I’ll stay out of that space. But “because she’s older” is not a good reason.

  • NicoleK March 24, 2016, 3:21 pm

    I am not sure I would use the flirty needing a gentleman line at the office

  • Spotted Pony March 26, 2016, 12:14 pm

    Personally I think you need to stop being so polite. With all the things you are doing to be polite, you may as well have ‘door mat’ printed on your forehead. If your hair style, jewelry, and dress are in line with what the others are wearing, and your boss is ok with the way you look, just ignore any comments or use what the previous posters have suggested. Then you need to stop doing the dishes, just do your own, it’s not your job to clean up after others. If you get to a door first and someone else is coming, if they have their arms full, hold the door and let them through first, otherwise hold the door long enough that they can get it themselves and you go through it first. If they are more than a step or two away, then let them open the door themselves. You are being paid to do a certain job, not to wait and hold doors for people who are perfectly capable of doing it themselves. As for the parking, if you see a spot near the door that isn’t reserved for handicapped or anyone else, go ahead and park there. If anyone says anything, tell them that the boss said that the spots aren’t assigned and anyone can park in a space that isn’t reserved. Then go about your business of doing your job to the very best of your abilities.

  • Ross March 27, 2016, 8:59 am

    My first instinct when someone was complaining about parking and I had things to carry in would be to hand them what needed carried or ask them to meet me at my new parking spot to help. I promise not another word would ever be said.

  • Aje April 3, 2016, 2:14 pm

    I can attest this does happen. I worked in an office where I was the youngest person by at least thirty years. I was told many things about what kind of clothing I should wear. I was called into the office and told “Your slacks may be brown, but they look like jeans. they’re unprofessional.” I braided my hair and was told I looked like a child. I wasn’t bringing glory to God or upholding the standards of our religious company. I should add according to the handbook I never dressed out of order.

    So I went to the store and bought the most scanty panties of lace and silk . Some were red and some were leopard print. I wore them under the required articles of clothing. I smiled every time they talked about someone’s ‘ungodly’ attire.

    Then I quit and found a place where I could wear comfortable professional clothes and no one told me if I looked too young when I braided by hair. And I kept wearing the scanty underpants because I enjoy the irony. The end 🙂