Lots of people move in the summer, many for new jobs. Moving can be incredibly disorienting on a personal level. Figuring out the politics of a new office is likewise difficult, and it’s not necessarily something humans, who used to stay with our tribes for life, are good at doing. However, there are ways to start to feel at home, says Melody Warnick, author of the new book, This is Where You Belong: The Art and Science of Loving the Place You Live. After half a dozen moves in a few years, Warnick set out to figure out how to make her current home of Blacksburg, Va., truly feel like home. She reports that “A lot of the things that work to make people feel at home in their community work for a workplace, which is in essence its own kind of community.” Here’s how to feel like you belong, fast.
Your first weeks at a new job should be as social as possible. “The most disheartening thing about moving to a new place is the lack a social network,” says Warnick. “That can be really depressing.” The process of making new friends can be challenging because “you’ll spend some time with people who, in the end, may turn out not to be your favorites.” However, “you still have to go through that process.” Start going for coffee with as many of your colleagues as you can, realizing it’s just a numbers game. You won’t like everyone, but you can probably find one person you really like per month. In six months, you’ll have a dozen good work buddies, and that’s actually a lot.
People love to give advice. It makes them feel closer to you and it makes them want you to succeed. “Identifying people who can tell you about the local culture and how things work is incredibly valuable,” Warnick says. Every office has the equivalent of the local town historian. Spending time with this person can save you from jumping on a project that everyone knows is doomed.
That said, you do want to put some extra effort into being a good corporate citizen. Warnick cites research finding that being involved in civic life (e.g. serving on a town board) corresponds with liking a town more. Presumably this is a two-directional phenomenon; you volunteer because you like your home, and you like your home because you feel ownership of the decision-making process. At work, you can tap into this same impulse by volunteering for a committee or taking on a leadership role. Many people feel too busy to help organize an internal conference. By doing so, you gain goodwill, get to know a lot of important people, and feel more attached to your organization at the same time.
Warnick found that walking around her new town helped her get to know it in a way she couldn’t by car. Likewise, at work, “simply taking a stroll around your building, or your work campus, every day on your lunch hour, will solidify in your mind where things are and where you fit in the map of your workplace,” she says. You’ll find that quiet spot for intense focus. You’ll find the perfect trail for a walking meeting. You’ll find the hidden coffee shop on the next block that is so much better than the obvious one in front of your building. And, of course, when you’re walking, it’s easy to have conversations with other people who are out and about on their way to meetings or the restroom. “The more you walk, the more you will feel a sense of ownership of your place,” she says.
Having a place where everyone knows your name “can accelerate your sense of belonging,” says Warnick. That could be a nearby bar where you and colleagues go every Wednesday for happy hour. It could be the Chinese restaurant where you take your direct reports for lunch every Friday. It could even be somewhere at work; if you’ve got a corporate gym, people know they can always find you at the 8 a.m. yoga class on Tuesdays and Thursdays. These rituals go a long way toward feeling at home.
A sense of belonging requires accepting a paradox. In an at-will economy, you or your employer could end your relationship tomorrow. For sheer self-preservation, it feels wisest to hold back emotionally. And yet happiness comes from going all in, putting in the extra effort that can improve any situation in the long run. Warnick believes that it is possible to hold these dueling ideas in your head simultaneously. “Acknowledging that moving on is part of life doesn’t prevent us from investing and becoming engaged while we’re there,” she says. After all, most of us are willing to go all in with our family relationships, even though these can end too. We recognize that the joy of authentic connection is worth the potential pain. It’s pretty much the same at work. Go the extra mile and “You’ll be sad to leave, which is actually kind of what you want,” Warnick says.