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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

It's OK if You Don't Have Friends at Work

These days, being the right person for a job tends to involve a lot more than just showing up with a strong skill set and a passion for the field. More and more companies also want to find someone who’s a good culture fit. What this means varies across organizations and industries, but it suggests that no matter how rock-solid your resume, how airtight your interview answers, if you aren’t deemed the right fit, you may not get an offer.

And yet, because fit can be difficult to determine throughout a couple of interviews or in-person meetings, plenty of individuals find themselves joining companies and quickly realizing that it’s not working—and not because they don’t know how to do the job.

After many years working for the same company, my friend Tim decided it was time to move on. He felt as though he’d outgrown his role at, let’s call it, Company P, and was psyched when Company X came knocking. Although he liked his colleagues quite a bit, the offer at Company X was worth more to him at the time than friendship in a department where he’d already made his mark. After a few weeks at the new gig, Tim and I met for drinks, and I asked him how things were going. Was he liking it as much as he’d anticipated?

Looking distressed, Tim explained that the actual day-to-day components of the job were great. He was working on some exciting projects and he had a ton of responsibility—far more than his former organization had allowed. But, he admitted, he was eating lunch by himself at his desk every day while a group of his co-workers went out without him. The one happy hour he attended left him feeling defeated, like he’d never make any friends.

I suggested that he give it more time. After all, the others had established connections months or years prior, whereas Tim had been on the team for less than four weeks. Surely, things would change and he’d feel looped in soon. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. It’s been over a year now, and Tim reports feeling as out of it as ever. There’s one person he chats with socially somewhat regularly, and they even get lunch together on occasion, but mostly Tim does his work and deals with the feeling that he doesn’t have a “group.”

Since he loves the job, he plans on staying. I suppose things could change for him, but if I’m being truly honest, I’m inclined to say he’s just not a great fit. The leadership team has perhaps realized this and decided it doesn’t care since Tim’s work ethic and output are outstanding.

While I don’t mean to paint a depressing picture with this anecdote, the truth is, it’s entirely possible that you’ll find yourself in a similar position one day, and rather than optimistically—and unrealistically—assure you that you’ll find a way to fit in, I think it’s better to be straightforward. If you have a few jobs throughout your career, you may discover that not all of them fit you the same way. If the environment isn’t toxic, and you like the work you’re doing, it may not even be a big deal—or at least, you don’t have to make it a big deal.

Sometimes, you can force yourself into a circle. You can drag yourself to events that are way outside your scope of interest just to try to forge a bond with your co-workers. You can engage in conversations on topics that mean nothing to you. You can try to be your bubbliest self in the face of all those extroverts when really, deep down, you’re as introverted as they come.

There’s plenty you can do to fix your situation, but at the end of the day, you might be happiest admitting that it’s not going to happen. I’m not suggesting you put up with a cliquey environment or allow yourself to be bullied by your co-workers. I’m simply saying that if everything else lines up, maybe it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a ton of friends at work.

Instead, ask yourself: Are your ideas heard? Do you feel respected? Do you believe your colleagues are open to including you in things even though you’re not interested? Are you learning from your boss and teammates—even though you’re not hanging out with them?

Again, as long as the environment isn’t toxic and you value the work you’re doing, this problem doesn’t have to cast a dark shadow over your week. If you don’t fixate on it, no one else will either. And, down the line, one of two things is likely to happen: You move on and land in a role at a company where you 100% fit in , or two, you stay long enough that things start to change and you begin to feel like more of an insider over time.

There are a ton of compelling reasons to leave a job—a terrible boss, condescending co-workers, unfair work policies, zero work-life balance—but not fitting in perfectly when everything else is OK probably isn’t one of them.

With all this said, only you know what you need to thrive in a role. So, if you come to the realization that having good friends at the office is key to your happiness, you should 100% go ahead and start that job search. Life’s too short to be unhappy Monday through Friday.

Photo of professional man working alone courtesy of Caiaimage/Tom Merton/Getty Images.