How not to feel left out and alone at work

When you start a new job, it’s natural to feel left out of the workplace camaraderie, especially as you try to break into the “office tribes.”

While it’s natural for you and your new colleagues to need some time to develop relationships, it’s easy to get impatient if you feel some degree of FOMO, or “fear of missing out,” as you self-consciously watch your peers sharing water-cooler chat and trading inside jokes.

But you’re not alone.

Comparing your social circle to that of your peers is “a fundamental human tendency,” according to a new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, in which researchers surveyed newly arrived college students and found that nearly half thought their peers had made more friends than they did since coming to campus. In addition, the researchers found that feeling less popular or connected than your peers can have a significant negative impact on your happiness.

Here are a few of the findings that stood out, plus tips for forging professional relationships when you’re just starting out.

What you think about your peers can impact how you feel

Most people assume that other people have more friends than they do.

That’s the conclusion of researchers from The University of British Columbia, Harvard Medical School and Harvard Business School, who found that nearly half of the 1,099 first-year college students they spoke to perceived those around them as having made more new friendships than they had.

Students were asked to guess how many “social acquaintances” and “close friends” they thought their peers had created since school started in September, and were also asked to share how many acquaintances and friends they’d made.

Nearly half — or 48% — of students thought other freshmen had made more close friends than themselves, compared to the 31% who thought they had made more than those around them.

“Two studies revealed that students consistently thought their peers had more friends and spent more time socializing than they themselves did. This misperception emerged regardless of whether students were thinking of an ‘average’ peer or a specific individual friend or acquaintance,” researchers found.

The sense of feeling left out was even more acute when students thought about friends they hadn’t seen in a week, leading researchers to conclude that subjects had a harder time determining their relative social status when they couldn’t see their peers in action.

The FOMO had a real effect on mental health, as “students who believed that their peers were more socially connected reported lower well-being and belonging,” researchers found.

“We know the size of your social networks has a significant effect on happiness and wellbeing…But our research shows that even mere beliefs you have about your peers’ social networks has an impact on your happiness,” said Ashley Whillans, researcher and assistant professor at Harvard Business School,.

Frances Chen, the study’s senior author and assistant professor in the University of British Columbia’s department of psychology, added, “These feelings and perceptions are probably the strongest when people first enter a new social environment, but most of us probably experience them at some point in our lives.”

But even though being the new hire can be a lonely experience at first, there are ways to start fitting in.

Make an effort to get to know your colleagues

Starting a new job often means navigating a maze of coworker cliques (real or imagined), while trying not to feel left out

The first thing to do is to introduce yourself to your new colleagues and make an effort to learn about them. Strive to do great work and figure out how your manager — and colleagues — operate as soon as possible and make yourself an asset to the team.

Career planning expert Dawn Rosenberg McKay suggests spending your downtime at work striking up new friendships with new colleagues.

“Use your lunch hours to get together with your current co-workers. It may be tempting to meet up with your former work mates if you are nearby, but establishing relationships with your current ones is much more important,” she wrote in an article for The Balance.

In addition, take heart from the study findings. Researchers who tracked students’ sense of belonging and social connection found that within a few months of arrival, the same students who thought others had “moderately more” connections had made a greater amount of “close friends and social acquaintances” over the course of the year than those who thought others had “many” more connections than themselves.

But try not to lose yourself while trying to make friends with others. There’s a line between being accommodating and turning into a people pleaser. Don’t get so bogged down in what others think of you that it paralyzes you. Also, don’t be a pushover— be friendly and open, but have a backbone.

New managers, really listen to your reports

Let’s say you’re trying to earn the respect of your new colleagues as a manager, rather than a peer. That can make for different kind of challenges, since the dynamic of power is more uneven.

One way to develop ties to your new reports while adhering to healthy supervisor-employee boundaries is to think about what you can do to make their lives easier.

How to find that out? Start by being a good listener. Ask them about their average work day, or what challenges they’re facing in getting their jobs done. Ask how you can help streamline their tasks. Hearing them out is a great way to earn trust and pave the way for you to move into a positive working relationship.

Whether you’re new or not, definitely slow down so you can connect with others in conversation.

And when you’ve finally worked your way into being a member of the “tribe” don’t forget to pay it forward to the next hire who might be in your shoes.