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The question

The office mean girl lives! At least where I work. There is a pack of them and they are vicious. They are all in their 30s and they delight in treating me like garbage. I'm not sure what I did to bother them, but it's been like this since Day 1. I've watched new employees get brought into their circle while I remain on the outside. Recently, my team went out for a group lunch and they were all talking about going out for dinner the next night – and I was the only one at the table not included. Oh, and one of them is my boss. If you're part of this group, you get an office birthday party. If you aren't, you're ignored. I've tried talking to a higher-up, but he's in another province and isn't interested. What should I do?

The answer

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"Life is like high school with money." You heard that one?

You would think people would outgrow the urge to clique up, but apparently not. There are probably "mean girls" in old folks homes too. ("Oooh, there goes Miss Gross Veins in her fancy new wheelchair. I see you didn't finish your vanilla mush this morning. What's the matter, drop your straw down your front and couldn't fish it out of your cantilevered bosoms?")

I feel your pain, sister. The few times I toiled in an office, I always felt like an outsider. The worst is that you never know what goofy thing it could be that you're being judged/excluded for.

Once, when I was working in a television newsroom, a friend of mine from the outside world joined the staff. After he had embedded himself in the cliques, I asked him: "Why am I treated like such a pariah?"

"It's your attitude," he said.

"What attitude? I work harder than anyone else and I'm totally grateful for the job. Why do you think people think I have an attitude?"

"Well, it could have something to do with the vintage clothes you wear all the time."

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That was an eye-opener. I looked around and realized there was an unwritten dress code in the newsroom – black jeans, nice sweater (usually green), sneakers (or horrible, "I've got other things on my mind" Wallabee-type shoes). I was flouting this unwritten convention. Hence: "attitude."

So that's one way you can go: If there's anyone in the office you trust, take him/her aside and ask why everyone else gives you the cold shoulder. If the person can manage to be honest with you, the answer might be painful, but also illuminating.

From there, as I see it, you have three options: conform, ignore or get another job.

First, ask yourself: "How badly do I want to be part of this 'in' group, and why?" Is it that old Groucho Marx thing: "I would never want to be a part of any club that would have someone like me for a member"? (I'm paraphrasing here). The converse being, of course: "I want to be part of any club that refuses someone like me membership."

Could that be it? If so, re-examine your desire to join this clique. Recall that in Mean Girls, Cady joins "the Plastics" only to find out that being popular isn't all it was cut out to be.

I hate to use a cornball, middlebrow movie (even one written by Tina Fey) as a guideline for behaviour, but maybe that's the ticket for you. Just decide you don't need them.

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It is also possible that you're simply in the wrong job. (Me, I started wearing jeans and green sweaters in the newsroom, but it didn't really help: I found more kindred spirits when I left and joined a book-chat show.)

But quitting is an extreme measure, and a step best taken only after careful consideration, and definitely not for the sole reason that these office harpies are treating you like crap. Why let them win?

For now, I say: Be patient. Keep your head down and chin up (metaphorically). Recall that a) cliques have a way of turning on themselves after a while; b) the mean girls may start to notice your good qualities after a while; c) if you don't seem all too interested in becoming part of their precious little in-group, the Groucho Marx effect may begin to work its magic on them, and they may come with their hats in their hand to you.

A little attitude goes a long way. Maybe a more apposite aphorism for you in this circumstance is: "Any club that doesn't want someone like me as a member can bite me."

David Eddie is the author of Damage Control , the book.

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