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10 ways your workplace is like high school

You thought you left it all behind years ago. Then one day, you have an epiphany at the printer: this workplace makes me feel like I'm back in high school, only without the tardy bell and bad acne!

You used to think that junior high middle school was the deepest pit in hell, but you were wrong. So, so wrong, because you're still living scenes from The Breakfast Club every day on the job at age 25/35/45/55/65. If only your office would spring for senior benches in the break room so the cool people could mock their less-cool co-workers, then your life would come full circle.

It was time to grow up a long time ago, but some employees act like they've never left high school. Adolescent behavior -- from cliques to cool kids to caste systems -- can follow us into the workplace and infect an office like a bad case of head lice. Maybe your workplace suffers from only a few high school-related behaviors, and if so, count yourself lucky. Without further ado, here are the 10 ways the workplace can feel like high school all over again:

1. Cliques. These co-workers are tight. So tight, in fact, that they eat together, walk together, talk together, gossip together. They hang out at work, after work, and possibly even on weekends and aren't afraid to share their exploits loudly for those who aren't in the club. They may even wear the same kind of clothes, or -- egad! -- share clothes. Or maybe your workplace is divided into a variety of distinct social groups loosely resembling The Breakfast Club. Throw in letterman jackets (or whatever they're called now) and it's like 10th grade all over again.

2. Cool Kids. They're cooler than you, and they want you to know it. They wear the right clothes, use the right buzz words, and adhere to a subtle office caste system that places them firmly on top. You? Well, you're just not one of them, are you? In their book, you're a two on a scale of one to insanely cool. Left unchecked, the cool kids can become workplace bullies who will ignore you, exclude you, belittle you -- and in general, just sort of make you pay all day for your perceived un-coolness. They make you dread going to work these days because their behavior reminds you a little bit too much of...high school.

3. Trend-hopping (In the Name Of Teamwork). Your co-worker bounds into the office to show off his new tech gadget or retro shirt. It doesn't really matter what the item in question is, as long as it's uber-trendy and/or ironic. Suddenly, everyone else can feel pressure to adopt this co-worker's hipster ways in order to quite literally look like one of the team, especially if the trend-hopper is the boss or the office Cool Kid. Start-up companies with a creative, artistic bent are especially prone to blatant trend-hopping. You hate that crappy indie band blaring from your co-worker's computer speakers, but you'll pretend to like it anyway because...okay, you don't want to talk about it because you're 38 years old and you don't want to admit that you're bending to peer pressure. Just get some work done, will you? You can always bring a pair of headphones.

4. Rich Kids vs. Poor Kids. It's not something we like to talk about, but the economic disparities found in John Hughes movies don't end at graduation. No, they march right into the workplace with us. One employee comes from the wrong side of the tracks and worked hard to earn a degree from a second-tier school (as ranked by U.S. News And World Report, ahem) while another employee grew up in a rich suburb, attended exclusive private schools and drives a car that costs more than the other employee will make this year (thanks, mom and dad!). It wouldn't be such a big deal if the Rich Kid would just stop talking about her next vacation in Tuscany, because her more economically-challenged co-workers are just trying to get by, thank you very much.

5. The Jock vs. The Nerd. The "jock" still plays intramural sports, works out at the gym, wears dirty baseball caps and knows every sports statistic going back to 1950. The "nerd" might not even watch sports, prefers to work things out on his laptop, and has amassed nearly every collectible from The Simpsons except for the one that still evades him. The office jock may not throw the office nerd into the garbage can anymore (unless the office is way into pranking -- see #8), but the awkwardness and quietly disdainful attitude can still linger years later.

6. The Popular Girl. It's like jocks vs. nerds, only for women. The "popular girl" in the office is pretty and outgoing, her make-up and hair are always just so, and is that a designer purse? Of course, it is! She was probably popular and perfect back in high school, and so the workplace is just an extension of what's been a life-long trend. Her interactions with other women in the office might get tense, but the guys are always prairie dogging over cubicle walls to talking to her. She's the IT guy's dream girl (see #10). The "jock" is quite likely one of her best office buds, just like he was in high school.

7. Gossip, Gossip, Gossip. You thought you told a co-worker something in confidence this morning, but now everyone seems to know about it. Passing notes is even faster and more underhanded nowadays because it's gone totally digital. I heard that she...then she told me...did you see her hair!? OMG! Snark is only a return key away in the age of texting and social media messaging, LOL. In this office, never share anything you don't want everyone in the back of the office knowing by 10 a.m.

8. Pranking. Light pranking can be hilarious, but sometimes pranking can go over the line just like it did back in high school. The office manager either morphs into an angry high school principal or ignores the over-the-top pranking as "blowing off steam," but you're about to blow your top amid all the juvenile behavior. Wedgies? Really? Lighten up, dude, I was only kidding! Can someone just make it stop?

9. The Teacher's Pet. Managers don't like to admit it, but they can have favorite employees, and usually these employees remind them of...themselves. Entrepreneurs are particularly prone to this, er, "phenomenon." Or maybe the employee is a total suck up who worms his or her way into the teacher's pet role. Either way, this co-worker can't do any wrong in the boss's eyes. Why can't the rest of you be more like so-and-so? has become the daily take-home memo addressed to everyone else in the department. Too bad the boss isn't grading on a curve, right?

10. The Office Love Triangle. Love, exciting and new. Come aboard, we're expecting you to bang your head against the wall watching Co-worker A pine for Co-worker B who really likes Co-worker C, but Co-worker C doesn't want a relationship with Co-worker B for whatever reason. Now Co-worker A is wallowing in the pain and can't focus on the work anymore. Co-worker A might be the office nerd or Poor Kid who has the hots for The Popular Girl who in turn prefers the Rich Kid or the Jock. It's like a John Hughes movie acted out daily in front of your desk. I hope your break room has a popcorn maker.

If your office exhibits all ten traits listed above, then I am so sorry. Chin up, because you only have two more years until graduation! Oh, wait. Nevermind.

Update: Now there's statistical proof that your workplace really is like high school!


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