The Territorial Workplace

Joan F. Marques - MBA, Doctoral Student
Burbank, California

Ever entered an office where you feel as if you're being looked away, even if everybody smiles at you? I guess we all have. It's bad enough if you have to be at such an office on a regular basis for deliveries or other work-related appointments. But what if you work in that office and have to deal with the sensation of being looked away in order to ensure your monthly paycheck?

The funny thing about this feeling – which, by the way may be more familiar to women than men for some reason – is, that it is nothing more than that: a feeling. You cannot put your finger on the roots of it, and it's pretty hard to rationalize. It is an intuitive matter, but it's there! For sure!

Another interesting detail of this situation is, that it is primarily created by women, and perhaps therefore also mainly experienced by women. Whether this is due to their protective instinct, or just their enormous sense of insecurity, women have a tendency to emotionally mark their territory in a way that others may not be able to define, but will certainly feel!

If you care to take a closer look into one of those typical territorial workplaces, you will find that there is often one leader, and a group of followers who show unconditional devotion to this territory-protector. Because it is such a subtle power scene, every new entrant will have to figure it out on his or her own.

Male entrants seem to have less trouble with it, either because they lack the sensitivity, or because they are not treated as potential competitors in the political arena: they can be easily manipulated.

Female entrants, on the other hand, will quickly find out who is the real boss in that work-environment, aside from all title-plates.
Once their intuition has led them in finding that out, they have two options in dealing with it:

    1. They can obey the existing monarchy and become submissive.
    2. They can ignore it and become an outcast.

Choosing for option 2 is practically impossible if you have to be in the territorial workplace on a daily basis.

It is easier applicable if you only have to show your face now and then. Most female employees will therefore choose for option 1, because it's the only way to survive. The choice between the two above-mentioned options is often also determined by character and position: a woman with a confrontational nature will most likely not linger in this work environment for too long, especially if she is not interested in powerhouses, or wants to be the leader herself. In the latter case she will probably switch jobs until she finds herself a work environment where she can establish her own monarchy.

A woman with a high level of education will probably be less interested in the monarchy-system, and will ignore it even though she will be aware of it. She can afford to remain an outcast because of her qualifications, which make her important to the performance of the organization as a whole. If she proves herself to the organization, she may be endured, but will never become part of the system. If she doesn't prove herself, she will be forced out with every available emotional weapon.

In case you're new to this phenomenon, here are some points to enlighten your perspective. These are some of the signs that you are in a territorial workplace:

  • You take a deep breath to boost up your dignity before you open the door to the office.
  • You feel as if you need to make yourself invisible in order not to disturb the existing peace and quiet.
  • You start sweating when you need to ask someone something, even if work-related.
  • You find yourself speaking soft, quick, and maybe even in a stuttering way, although you may be very eloquent under all other circumstances.
  • You heave a sigh of relieve when you can finally leave the place. And "finally" always seems so far away!
  • All of these emotions (I call them "intruder-awareness sensations") exist, even if you genuinely love the kind of work you’re doing! Now, do you still wonder why working from home has become increasingly popular, and, what's more striking, has been listed as the most desirable way for women to work?