It’s normal to feel a little out of place when you’ve just started a new job. You can also feel like an outsider for other reasons: when you’ve just joined a new department, after a promotion, or after a relocation… Fortunately, the feeling usually goes away as you get to know your coworkers and begin to find your footing.
But what if the awkwardness endures? What if you still feel like the odd person out, even after weeks or even months? It might seem silly to worry about whether or not your colleagues like you, but experts agree that feelings of comfort and acceptance in the workplace are far from trivial.
“Most people will work an average of 65,000 hours in their lifetime. Being in a positive environment is a key [to] being happy and having a healthy outlook,” says leadership coach Anza Goodbar. “If you are unhappy in the job, you will be less likely to perform well and it will reduce the likelihood of keeping the job long-term.”
And on a more personal level, the fundamental need to belong is rooted in our evolutionary history. Psychologists agree that not fitting in can affect us both psychologically and physiologically.
But what can you do about it? Here are a few things experts recommend.
Decide where your problem is coming from
It’s vital to know whether your feeling of being an outsider is internal (a problem with how you perceive yourself) or external (a problem with how others perceive you). If you’re too hung up on being popular, your problem is internal, and you should work on your self-esteem. But if you’re genuinely experiencing a lack of respect from your colleagues, then you have an external problem. If that’s the case, don’t worry – all hope is not lost. You just have to take a few extra steps.
Put yourself out there more
One explanation for your discomfort could be that you keep to yourself too much. People might assume you’re not interested in them or they’re unsure about how to approach you. Try to get the ball rolling by inviting a colleague to lunch or coffee or dropping by their desk for a chat. Taking the initiative will make you seem more approachable. And try to be more social at breaks. Join in the conversation at lunch. Attend company happy hours or social events, even if they’re “not your thing”. Because by bonding with your coworkers on a personal level, they’ll feel more comfortable with you during working hours.
Observe, and imitate…
Workplaces can be as varied as people. You’ll always be more comfortable in some workplace cultures than others. The key is to understand the company culture – the way others interact, dress, think – and learn how to adapt to it, all while maintaining your own identity. You shouldn’t change who you fundamentally are in order to fit in, but a few adjustments to your communication style could help put others at ease. “We tend to respond positively to others like us, and if you are feeling like the odd man out, then you probably need to be the one to adjust your style,” says career coach Mary Warriner.
But to thine own self be true
Always remember, even when you’re trying to fit in, you should never give up your unique identity and values. Doing so will only leave you with shallow friendships and coworkers who don’t “get you.” You have a unique contribution to make, and your perspective can be an enormous advantage for those around you. If you recognize and value your personal contributions, others will too. So be yourself, all while respecting the culture around you. The sooner you do, the sooner you’ll find where you fit and start feeling more fulfilled. And your coworkers will come to appreciate you for who you really are.
In the end, as long as your workplace environment isn’t toxic and you value the work you’re doing, the problem of “not fitting in” doesn’t have to cast a dark shadow over your days. If you don’t fixate on it, no one else will either. And, down the line, one of two things will happen: either you’ll stay long enough that things start to change and you begin to feel like more of an insider over time… or you’ll move on and land in a role at a company where you 100% fit in.
There are plenty of good reasons to leave a job – condescending coworkers, unfair work policies, a poor work-life balance – but not fitting in perfectly when everything else is fine simply isn’t one of them.