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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

3 Reasons You're Not Bonding With Your Co-workers (Solutions Included!)

When you start a new job, you inherit more than a desk and a docket of responsibilities. Unless you’re freelancing or working solo, your job will also include a cast of colleagues (a.k.a., characters) who you’ll be working with day in and day out.

Ideally, you’ll bond with your new team. Sure, you might find one or two people grating, but overall, you should have a few people you like to talk to each morning. However, that’s not always the case. My friend recently started a new job and felt like her co-workers just weren’t that into her—personally. No one was hostile, but they weren’t pausing at her desk to chat or asking her to join their book club either.

Are you dealing with something similar? Here are a few common reasons you might feel like don’t you fit in at your new job, and the steps you can take to build a friendlier bond with your co-workers.

1. They Make You Feel Old (or Young)

This is not another article on how Boomers suck at email and Millennials should act less like the characters on Girls. Because, personally, I’ve never dealt with these overblown stereotypes. What I have seen is people defaulting to hang out with co-workers who are close in age.

The Gen X married folks assume the 20-somethings have no interest in grabbing breakfast before work to discuss strategies for entertaining a bunch of five-year-olds at a birthday party. The new grad assumes the middle-aged parent wouldn’t be able to join the group for a drink—because wouldn’t that take some sort of babysitter coordination not worthy of a last-minute happy hour?

So, the new colleague of a different generation (you) is left out of social activities out of an assumed disinterest.

While you could keep your work and social lives entirely separate, the rapport built during these sorts of gatherings matters. But start where you are—in the office. Before you set your sights on happy hour or book club, begin small by building more bonds within the confines of the workplace. Next time you have a meeting, take a moment to ask your colleagues how they’re doing and hold a warm conversation (regardless of whether their lives mirror yours a decade ago or 15 years from now). Be your fun, creative, brilliant, welcoming self, and create friendships during the day. It’s likely that one of those office friendships will turn into an invite to happy hour or book club or a birthday party—and at the very least, you’ll feel like you fit in at work.

2. They Make You Feel Poor

It’s disconcerting when you feel like you’re the economic outcast of the group. Your co-workers go out to eat practically every day, but you can’t afford that. They want to celebrate a win at a fancy restaurant, order lots or drinks, and split the check, while you don’t really want to drop $75 for your $12 app.

So, you keep saying no for financial reasons. But your colleagues interpret it as you not wanting to spend time with them. After a period of time, they eventually stop asking.

However, a permanent disinvite is not the best solution here. In fact, your best bet is to be more involved socially, by offering to pitch in with planning and suggesting alternate (i.e., less expensive) options. Ask if everyone would be up for eating outside, somewhere they could buy lunch and you could brown bag it. Or, if it’s around holiday time, suggest an office Secret Santa in lieu of expensive gifts, and so forth.

And if a certain clique of colleagues still chooses to bond over mani-pedis and golf games, don’t sweat it. (But do remember how excluded you felt when the designer shoe is on the other foot and you’re making more money than your co-workers.)

3. They Make You Feel Different

I’m a reality TV fan, and I once had a co-worker who made comments all the time that made me feel like I didn’t fit in. You know, saying offhand that people who watch these shows aren’t smart enough to read, or that people who spend their leisure time this way or that way are somehow less interesting. Frankly, I don’t know why the very same knowledge or hobbies that can make you appear warm and pop-culture savvy in some groups is counted against you as idiocy in others—but it happens.

Of course, it’s totally OK to have different hobbies or interests than your new team, but if you feel judged—or are the one doing the judging—it closes the door for you to connect beyond your “work self” and build a bond.

But instead of feeling like the only way to connect is to pipe up on every subject (for better or worse), wait for the exchanges on topics you do find engaging. Then, feel free to join in and get to know your colleagues better. Assuming you took the time to learn about the company’s culture before accepting the offer, odds are high that you’ll discover you actually have a lot in common with your new co-workers. Sometimes, it just takes more than a few conversations to figure it out.

No one wants to feel left out at work. So if you’re not quite clicking with your new colleagues, do a self-check and see if the tips above will help smooth the way to better social interactions.

Photo of woman alone on swing courtesy of Shutterstuck.

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