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What to do when you feel like you don’t fit in at work

Culture fit isn’t just a fluffy goal. Having friends at work is important for your productivity and happiness.

What to do when you feel like you don’t fit in at work
[Photo: Frank Flores/Unsplash]

These days, having the right skill set isn’t enough to succeed in a job. Hiring managers are looking for employees who not only have the right credentials, but also who have the right culture fit. “Fit is important, especially when it relates to whether there is alignment between a company’s and employee’s values and beliefs,” says Stella Odogwu, founder of Intelle Coaching Solutions. How well you “fit in” is especially important if the company culture is built around teamwork and collaboration. But even if you pass HR’s culture test, what do you do when you land the job and still feel like an outsider in your team?

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Awkwardly sitting alone at lunch and feeling like the odd person out at team meetings and events can seem juvenile and may take you back to your high school days, but not fitting in is a real issue that can impact your ability to succeed in your job. Try these strategies to adjust your fit in the workplace.


Related: The 3 types of work friends you need early in your career


Is there really a problem?

Consider whether your feelings have more to do with how you perceive yourself than how others perceive you. Ask yourself if you need to adjust your own self-esteem, or if you are truly experiencing a problem of not being the right fit for the team. “Often we already have fears, doubts, and insecurities, and we tend to only focus on the evidence that supports what we already believe,” says Odogwu. If you already believe no one likes you, it’s easier to focus on occurrences that support that theory and ignore evidence of the contrary.

Examine the evidence objectively, and remember, you don’t need to be the most popular person at the office to be able to fit in, but if you are truly struggling with a lack of respect and connection and it’s affecting your ability to do your job, then you will need to take steps to fit in.

Seek one-on-one connections

Fitting in at the workplace is more about your ability to build strong, meaningful relationships than whether everyone laughs at your jokes and asks you out for happy hour. But trying to build those relationships in a large group setting can be challenging. If you’re struggling to connect with your coworkers, Odogwu recommends the one-on-one approach. Find a coworker that you have some common ground or shared interests with.

Perhaps you have kids around the same age, or you’re both really into football. It could even be a work-related interest that you have in common. Ask to join them at lunchtime or invite them out for a coffee after work hours. Once you’ve built some rapport with one individual, try connecting with someone else on your team.

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Related: 15 easy ways to make friends in your first week on the job


Put yourself out there

Ask yourself if you are really making enough of an attempt to fit in. Are you being social at breaks? Are you making an effort to talk to people at the coffee machine in the morning? Are you attending company social events? Look for small moments of opportunity to connect with people during work hours.

Say good morning when coworkers pass by your desk in the morning, sit with someone at lunchtime, and create chit-chat when you’re waiting around the copy machine. Those mini moments are great opportunities for positive connections with your coworkers. You may not become best buddies, but these moments of connection can help to foster trust and respect, creating a happier and more supportive work environment.

Find ways to add value

Odogwu says one of the best ways to build relationships is to be of value to someone you’re trying to connect with. Look for opportunities to leverage your skills and expertise to provide assistance to someone and help them to advance a project. Showing your value is a great way to bridge the gap and build meaningful connections with your coworkers.


Related: Why your boss should care about how many friends you have at work


Decide if it’s time to move on

If the company culture is not in alignment with your own beliefs and values, you may be fighting an uphill battle to fit in and may consider whether it’s time to move on. “Your job is a significant part of your life, and going to work should not be a source of stress and anxiety,” says Odogwu. Not fitting in is definitely a good-enough reason to move on.

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About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction

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