4 Steps to Take If You’re Feeling Left Out at Work

woman feeling isolated while coworkers gossip

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k
July 12, 2024 at 10:10PM UTC

What does it feel like to be excluded? When I was in middle school, I struggled socially — even to the point where I once ate lunch in the bathroom because I had no one to sit with. Then, I stopped eating altogether.

We’d like to think that this type of isolation ends when we reach adulthood, but unfortunately, many of us still feel left out from time to time. It can manifest anywhere: when you move to a new city or feel like everyone’s leaving your current town, at a party where you don't know many people and even in the workplace. Workplace isolation can be especially difficult since you spend so much time there. 

Whether there’s a clique you just can’t crack, mean girls who always seem to be giggling whenever you walk by or a happy hour crew that never invites you along, it’s not a good feeling. Not only will it leave you wondering if your colleagues just don’t like you, but it can also take a toll on your performance at work. Perhaps your boss is even involved, and you’re wondering if you’ll be passed up for a promotion because you two aren’t buddy-buddy. So, what do you do about it? It may seem like an insurmountable challenge — you can’t force people to like you, after all — but there are some ways you can help the situation — and yourself.

What to do if you’re experiencing FOMO at Work.

What do you do when you are not respected at work? What do you do if people just don’t seem to be including you? Here are some tips to address the situation.

1. Look at the situation objectively.

If you were someone else examining the situation, what would you think? Are people actually excluding your, or could it just be your perception? Either case is a possibility. Perhaps that happy hour excursion was just a one-off, and you’ve been invited lots of other times. Or, maybe it’s a regular thing, and you actually are being excluded. Before you get too upset, make sure you acknowledge the reality of the situation. Because if the problem isn’t really that you’re being left out but that you’re overreacting, you can’t do anything other than acknowledge that you should probably take things less personally.

On the other hand, your feelings are always valid. And if it does seem like you’re constantly being left out, purposefully or not, it can feel very hurtful. If that’s the case, you should take action before the situation escalates and leaves you feeling like you’re about to explode.

2. Put yourself out there.

If all your colleagues seem to be getting together without you — whether they’re going out to lunch or having happy hour — you can simply take matters into your own hands. For example, invite a couple of colleagues you’d like to get to know better out to lunch. Or, plan your own happy hour. If you’re the one planning it, you have to be included. 

Also, make an effort to attend work events to which you are invited. This will give you more opportunities to connect with your coworkers. Try to initiate conversations at these events, broaching topics that aren’t just about work in an effort to get to know them better. That doesn’t mean you should go up to the cliqueiest group and try to break in; instead, look for people who don’t seem to be talking to anyone or casual circles where you know at least one person fairly well. This is a good tip for networking events, too.

You should also try to establish connections informally. In the breakroom, strike up a conversation with a coworker, even if it’s just small talk. This will help you develop a better rapport. (Do try to go beyond “How about that weather” though. Really, nobody likes to talk about the weather.) If some of your coworkers are casually discussing an outing, you might interject some like “I’d love to come along next time!” This will show that you’re interested in hanging out without seeming desperate or demanding to be included.

3. Focus on developing one or a handful of relationships.

In our world of abundance, it can seem like everyone has a million best friends. Making a million friends at work is an impossible goal. Instead, focus on developing one or a couple of close relationships. This should be someone you can rely on professionally. You may even become close personally, too.

It’s important to have this support system to bounce ideas off of and commiserate with. Make sure you’re serving as a support system for her as well. If this person is someone who tends to be more included in events and goings-on in the office, perhaps she can help draw you into the fold and connect you with others. 

How do you find this person? That’s the more challenging part. If you don’t have anyone you’re close with at work, it can be difficult to even identify that one potential support system. Start by making a list of your coworkers and highlighting the ones with whom you’ve bonded in some small way or seem especially kind and empathetic. Make it a goal to get to know a couple of them better, such as by inviting them out to lunch. Don’t force the relationship, but create situations where you can allow one to grow naturally — kind of like with dating.

4. Observe and learn from the company culture.

In some cases, if you’re feeling excluded or not fitting in at work, it could be because you don’t understand the norms of the company culture. That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; it might just mean you haven’t fully taken stock of the way people do things in your office. Perhaps, for example, people tend to eat lunch at their desks rather than going out to eat, and every time you’ve popped over to Hale and Hearty you’ve missed out on some fruitful conversations. 

Take some time to really observe the culture, including how and when people interact. Once you’ve truly examined the ins and outs of your workplace, make an effort to try to emulate the behavior of others. In the above example, you might start bringing your lunch so you can talk to your colleagues during your break.

Of course, in some cases, you may just not fit in well with the company culture. That’s not your fault — some people don’t mesh. If you’ve tried to get to know others and better understand the culture at your place of work and it still seems like people are excluding you and being cliquey, you may just have to deal with the fact that this is not the right place for you — in fact, it could even be a toxic environment.

Feeling left out at work isn’t a trivial thing — it can take a toll on your psychological health and impact your work performance. So if this culture isn’t for you, you may want to start looking for a better fit elsewhere. It’s not admitting defeat; it’s recognizing that you have needs that aren’t being met in your current job. 

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