What's your problem?

I won an industry award a few months back and instead of it boosting my career, all it has led to is ill-feeling and sarcastic remarks.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My boss has been very supportive, but my colleagues have been ignoring me. I wish I'd never got it and I have been bending over backwards to do my achievement down, which I'm starting to resent. How do I put an end to all this?

A: Your colleagues' behaviour must be horrible for you. To the outside observer, it also reveals an astonishing amount about your company, its spirit and its culture. Let me tackle this first, before returning to your personal problems.

I'm prepared to bet that there are a couple of ringleaders among your colleagues. They'll be creepily like those bullies you remember from school, the ones who set the tone for the whole class through sheer force of personality.

Not particularly bright themselves, nor noticeably successful at any sport or subject, they protect themselves from any sense of failure by mocking the slightest evidence of industry or achievement in others. The brighter children are accused of being show-offs, of greasing up to teachers. And they are made to feel conspicuous and disloyal.

I'm reasonably certain that something very similar is happening in your company - and for similar reasons. That you feel you need to downplay your award, and even regret having won it, is deeply dispiriting. A company - or even a department - that is infected by such a distorted sense of values is inevitably going to be demotivated and unproductive, and will probably suffer quite high rates of staff turnover. Only the bullies will take pleasure from the stultifying at- mosphere they've been responsible for creating. It may sound defeatist, but there's very, very little that you can do about it on your own.

The only person who can break this mould is your boss - whom luckily you find supportive. You need to have a quiet and reasoned talk with him or her. No threats - but leave your boss in no doubt that you simply have to work as part of an optimistic group that celebrates success and achievement.

Unless he or she is unusually thick, your boss must be aware of what's going on and the damage it's doing to their own reputation and career.

Your own resolve could provide just the nudge they need to do something brave and radical. If they don't, you'll have no choice but to look around.

I hope you don't find that too daunting a thought: that industry award of yours could finally prove to have real value.

- Jeremy Bullmore has been creative director and chairman of J Walter Thompson London and a non-executive director of both the Guardian Media Group and WPP. Address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: editorial@mtmagazine.co.uk. Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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