Here’s What to Do When You Feel Like You Don’t Fit In at Work

Clinically Reviewed by Steven Melendy, PsyD. on May 13, 2020

For the most part, you like your job. You can handle your responsibilities with confidence, your boss is invested in your growth and development, and you’re learning a lot.

But, that doesn’t mean things are perfect. Your biggest complaint? You don’t feel like you’re totally meshing with your team.

They’re all excited about charging ahead with projects after the first pitch, while you’d prefer to get your hands on more details and map out a plan. They get right down to business during meetings, while you wouldn’t mind a little more small talk and camaraderie. They always order pizza for lunch on Fridays, and you’re lactose intolerant. 

Whatever the specifics are, you’re feeling like the odd person out. It’s not that anybody is purposefully excluding you, per se. But, this isn’t quite the team environment you pictured when you took on this role. 

You can take a little bit of comfort in the fact that you aren’t alone. Data from the EY Belonging Barometer found that a whopping 40% of employees say they feel isolated in the workplace.

However, that doesn’t mean that you want this to be your constant state of being. You’re eager to find ways to connect with your coworkers and feel more support at work. Let’s dig into three strategies you can use to extend the olive branch and build better relationships with your colleagues—regardless of how different you are from each other. 

1. Make an effort to understand your differences

Call it a human flaw, but we tend to stay away from things that we don’t understand. 

Much of that is owed to the fact that the human brain hates uncertainty—like, a lot. In fact, recent research shows that not knowing what’s going to happen is even more stressful than knowing for sure that we’re going to experience a bad outcome.

What does this have to do with your team members? Well, if you can’t quite figure out where the other one is coming from, it just seems easier to stay away from each other altogether.

That’s why you should suggest a team-wide activity of taking personality assessments. Something like a DISC Assessment or the TypeFinder® will help you all get a better grasp on your strengths and weaknesses, as well as your working styles.

Once you all have your results? Engage in an open conversation about your similarities and differences and find ways that you can collaborate even more effectively.

It’s not a guarantee that you’ll all end up on the same page (hey, differences are important on a team anyway!), but having this context and knowledge means that your differences won’t feel quite so intimidating or uncertain. 

2. Put yourself out there

When we feel like we aren’t fitting in, it’s tempting to slide into a victim mentality. We sit on the sidelines, feeling bad for ourselves and the fact that we aren’t included.

But, particularly if you’re the newbie on the team, waiting for other people to approach you might be a fruitless effort. Instead, take some initiative and start forging connections on your own.

Ask one of your team members out for coffee or lunch. Or, start up a book club or an employee group dedicated to a different interest that you have. 

Not only will these types of activities give you an opportunity to get to know your colleagues outside of the work environment, but it’ll also open up new topics that you could bond over (instead of just focusing on your work differences). Maybe you’ll discover that your deskmate is also training for a marathon, or your team member shares your passion for baking.

Even better? Coming out of your shell can help you make some work connections outside of your immediate team members. Even if you don’t collaborate with those people on a daily basis, you’ll still have a support system at work that you can depend on—which will certainly help you feel less isolated. 

3. Be flexible and make adjustments

First things first, a warning: This is not at all a recommendation that you should fundamentally change who you are in order to fit in at work. That will only backfire.

However, it’s important to recognize that the onus isn’t all on your coworkers to meet you where you are. It’s not fair to expect that they constantly bend to your preferences and desired way of getting work done.

You need to be willing to compromise and meet in the middle, and that’s going to require you to make some adjustments too. 

“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, in an article for Glassdoor

“You could sit back and watch for a while and see how your boss responds to your coworkers or how your coworkers interact with each other. This might give you a clue as to where to start. Do they interrupt each other and speak very fast? Do they take time to stop and think before responding?”

Identify where disconnects are happening (remember, a personality assessment will be helpful here too) and figure out some adjustments you could make to adapt. 

For example, maybe you came from an environment where people moved quickly, but now you’re on a team that likes to explore all options and get firm approvals. Recognizing that fact means you’ll be able to tweak your way of working to better suit your team (and ultimately make all of your lives easier). 

Is it time to hit the road?

Feeling like you don’t fit in with your team can be a frustrating experience. While the temptation to feel bad for yourself is strong, it’s worth trying some of the above strategies to see if you can build some bridges and forge solid relationships.

But, with that in mind, take note that there’s a difference between a lack of immediate compatibility and a truly toxic environment. 

If you’re feeling harassed, discriminated against, bullied (an unbelievable 90% of professionals have been bullied at work), or experiencing any other overtly negative behavior that makes it difficult for you to do your job well, you need to take action by approaching a superior or looking for an opportunity that’s a better fit for you. 

However, in the absence of those larger issues, it’s best to gather your courage, take some initiative, and see if you can find some common ground with your team members. After all, when you’re going to spend such a huge chunk of your time with these people, you certainly don’t want to feel like you’re constantly left out in the cold.

Kat Boogaard

Kat is a Wisconsin-based freelance writer who focuses on careers, productivity, and self-development. She has written content for The Muse, Trello, Atlassian, QuickBooks, Toggl, Wrike, and more. When she's not at her desk, you'll find her spending time with her family—which includes two adorable sons and two rebellious rescue mutts.

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About the Clinical Reviewer

Steven Melendy, PsyD., is a Clinical Psychologist who received his doctorate from The Wright Institute in Berkeley, California. He specializes in using evidence-based approaches in his work with individuals and groups. Steve has worked with diverse populations and in variety of a settings, from community clinics to SF General Hospital. He believes strongly in the importance of self-care, good friendships, and humor whenever possible.


Stephenie Jordan (not verified) says...

My thoughts on the subject is does it really have to mean that? 

I am going throw some control issues at work.. I am a woman who works in a mans world.. construction.. and most the time my coworkers make me feel like I do not belong in this job.. I am doing my best to learn what to do and really get down and get dirty.. by doing it .. and then they like to make me feel it was not good enough or something.. if I ask for assistance on part of our job I get the well if you can do it why are you here.  And with me being so new to this job I feel it is very unfair that one has to make another feel like shit at work.. I have no control over everything at work I can't even say I know what I am doing cause I am still so new.. and in order for me to do my job they've got to train me to do my job.. not sure if this is any help on the topic or not.. 

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