What's your problem?

Two years ago, I retired from a lifelong career as an accountant. I had six months at home catching up with the gardening, then took a full-time job with a local company doing a junior role just to earn some extra cash and to keep busy. I thought I could just work 9 to 5 and stay well clear of office politics. This imagined existence couldn't be further from reality. I've just been hauled up in front of the head of department for showing my manager disrespect and told to make more of an effort with the team.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

My team comprises five 22-year-old girls who spend their time gossiping. More problematic is my incompetent boss, who can't manage to save her life. I can't help but challenge the way she runs things - never in a rude way, but she has taken offence. I'd walk out, but I don't want to leave with a cloud hanging over me. Also, I'm 64 and it won't be easy to find another job.

A. You clearly didn't realise it at the time, but when you took on this job, you set yourself an impossible challenge. With a lifetime of experience behind you and a great many years enjoying well-earned respect, it was always inevitable that this junior job was going to test your tolerance beyond breaking-point.

I don't think office politics has much to do with it. Try to see the picture through the eyes of others. There you are, a 64-year-old man, surrounded by giggling, gossiping young women. They were there before you arrived and have the confidence of being part of a group; you are on your own. Even if you kept your mouth monkishly closed, I bet you'd still radiate unease and disapproval.

Your incompetent manager probably knows she's incompetent. Watching you watching her will have made her even more flustered. And then you challenge the way she runs things. Did you really expect her to thank you graciously for the helpful advice and promise to apply it forthwith? However chaotic it may have been before, as far as your fellow workers are concerned, everything was just hunky-dory until you turned up. I'm really not siding with them against you, nor am I blaming you. It could never have been otherwise; and both you and the company should have seen it coming.

I urge you to leave before the awful indignity of it cuts any deeper.

But that doesn't mean retiring hurt and bitter. Many small businesses, clubs and charities long for the part-time services of an experienced, senior numbers man. A small portfolio of jobs like that could keep your brain agile, your self-esteem intact - and bring in a handy bit of cash.

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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