It’s not nice to feel excluded. Whether it’s not being invited to lunch or happy hour, not being offered a cup of tea when someone’s doing the rounds, or just not being included in casual conversation – it can lead to feeling isolated and undervalued. This in turn will inevitably have an impact on your performance at work. Research has shown that when employees feel excluded, they respond poorly and this can lead to a toxic work environment. It’s up to workplace managers to ensure that they cultivate a positive and inclusive work environment, for the sake of employees’ wellbeing as well as long-term business success.
If you find yourself feeling excluded on a regular basis, this may be an issue with your work environment which is outside your control. However, there are positive steps that you can take to combat feelings of isolation in the workplace.
1. Take a step back and look objectively at the situation
It’s natural to respond emotionally to situations in which you feel you’ve been left out. For many of us, it might stir up negative emotions we haven’t felt since our school days.
Try to distance yourself emotionally and consider the situation objectively – have you been deliberately left out? Is there a pattern? Or was this a one-off situation, where someone behaved thoughtlessly without any intention of excluding you? It may be that this was a case of casual inconsiderate behaviour, and it’s not about you.
This will help you not to overreact to a one-off case of accidental exclusion. It will also help you to recognise where there is a pattern, and co-workers might be behaving in a deliberately cliquey way to leave you out. In this case, you’ll want to take further steps to address the situation.
2. Put yourself out there
Feeling excluded is particularly upsetting because it feels as though you have no control over the situation. The ball is in someone else’s court, and they’ve chosen not to play with you.
You can always take power into your own hands and make your own efforts at social integration. You could invite a couple of colleagues that you’d like to get to know better to get a bite to eat during lunch hour, or strike up a conversation while you’re both waiting for the coffee machine.
If there’s a cliquey group of co-workers who are making you feel excluded, don’t bother trying to infiltrate their ranks – the chances are, they’re not worth getting to know anyway, beyond what’s necessary for effective professional collaboration.
Make an effort to attend work events organised by HR or your manager. Sometimes, these are poorly attended and people consider them to be a drag. However, they can be a valuable opportunity to show that you want to be a part of the team and connect with your co-workers on a more personal level.
3. Focus on developing just a few relationships
You can’t be friends with everyone! In any group of people, smaller groups will naturally form amongst people with shared hobbies or interests. Whilst some of these groups might dominate the social sphere of your workplace, making you feel left out, there are plenty of other co-workers with whom you could cultivate a friendship.
If someone is friendly or you think you might have things in common, start to gradually connect with them and see where these conversations take you. This person might have their own network of friends, and might be able to help draw you into the fold.
4. Observe and learn from the company culture
Particularly if you’re new to a team, or there have been lots of exits and new hires recently, you might not be completely attuned to company culture. Pay extra attention to patterns of behaviour around you – it may be that you’re going out to buy your lunch every day, when most friendships are struck up around the microwave during lunch hour.
It may be that once you start paying extra attention, you realise that the problem really is with the wider company culture. In particular, if people are made to feel that they can’t be themselves in the office and need to assimilate to an “ideal” employee blueprint, this will hinder authentic connections on a personal level. If no-one feels they can truly be themselves, then it’s impossible to get to know people.
Feeling isolated at work can be an upsetting experience, which can take its toll both personally and professionally. The likelihood is that your work relationships aren’t the most important in your life, but you still spend the bulk of your time there, and want to have at least a few colleagues that you also consider friends.
If you’re finding that you consistently feel excluded, and none of your attempts to integrate socially are working, maybe this simply isn’t the right workplace for you. Company culture is an important part of job satisfaction, which many job seekers value highly. Perhaps you’d find a better fit with a different organisation – your continued professional development is all about finding the role in which you can thrive.
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