5 mins

If you're struggling to fit in at work, here are some options to try and fix the issue.

Dear Mathias, 

I am struggling with conforming and adapting to the culture of the organization I work for. My background and life experiences mean I hold a very different perspective from others in my workforce. Because I do not fit the mold of the organizational norm, I feel I am being excluded from opportunity and advancement. 

Despite this, I have made efforts to adapt my communication, management, and conflict style, to no avail. I am beginning to feel as though nothing I do will be good enough but I can’t compromise my personal beliefs and values at the expense of the organization. How can I move forward? 

— Alex

Hi Alex, it sounds like you’re feeling stuck, without a clear place to go within your organization. Let’s see if I can help.

Climbing the ladder: Keep trying new tactics 

It sounds like you have already tried a few things without any reward. However, assuming you’re still willing, I wonder if there’s more you could try.

When you feel this stuck, it helps to picture climbing up a ladder where each rung is another step you could take to try to make the situation work for you. Each rung brings opportunity, and an element of risk. 

The opportunities could be finding new ways to fit the mold of the organization better or to gain clarity on whether it’s worth continuing up this ladder. The risks may include creating grievances with folks above and around you. Your boss may feel attacked and protective of the organization, rather than being open to helping you. On the flipside, they may also be able to provide the very guidance you were looking for. The same is true about talking to their boss.

Another rung could be talking to others in the company to see whether they share your concerns and if they have any advice for you. The risk here is that you are waking sleeping lions that end up joining together to shut you out even more. 

To minimize the risk, you could approach this conversation by asking them for feedback on what you can do better and by explaining which parts of the organization you are struggling with. 

Starting the conversation this way doesn’t immediately push things towards the negative aspects you’re experiencing. It simply asks people to offer you some feedback and advice. Maybe these conversations even yield useful advice to add new rungs to your ladder. Keep the requests for feedback simple and focused, asking them about specific situations they were a part of. Ask them about what they would do in your place.

At minimum, these conversations yield useful information you can use to adjust your own approach and potentially get more things done. Depending on how willing and open people are in sharing feedback and advice, that may also tell you how much sense it makes to keep going. If people aren’t willing to share anything with you, that could raise more questions about whether this is the kind of workplace you want to continue being a part of.

This approach should work just as well for conversations with your superiors. Depending on how much you trust them, you can frame the conversation around struggles to get buy-in for ideas, or that you feel like your perspectives aren’t valued. 

Sometimes just naming what you’re experiencing already helps to open up the conversation. Then you can ask them for advice and feedback, too. They’re probably well versed in the organization’s ways of working and thinking, so they might be able to help you. How fruitful these conversations are depends a lot on how open your superiors are to supporting and including diverse voices like yours. The higher up you go, there’s also the risk of creating grievances with your direct boss, as they may feel like you’re going over their head. On the flipside, skip-level conversations with superiors can also yield insight and potentially even organizational change. 

What if you try everything and nothing changes? 

It may be the case that you continue to climb that ladder to the top rung and see no change. Before even taking active steps to “climb” the ladder rungs, evaluate your options. 

  1. You may choose to continue on in this role, though still quite unhappy with your surroundings. If this is the case, maybe there’s a side project you can pick up at home that helps you regain some of the energy you feel is drained at work. Maybe there are folks at work, potentially outside of your immediate circle, that you could spend more time with, over lunch or coffee. At the very minimum, find things that help you look after yourself. Whether it’s exercise, meditation, or taking long walks, find outlets that provide you with an element of peace and happiness.
  2. You could map out the ladder and dare to “climb” up the rungs as far as you can go. Maybe you still have the energy to try one or two more things.
  3. You either try these things, without any success, or you look at the ladder and determine that you don’t want to expend any more energy in this organization. And here you make the choice to start looking for jobs elsewhere. 

I understand there may be financial considerations to take into account with the final option. You don’t need to rush the execution, but the conviction can help you focus your energy on finding a place where you can be certain of a better fit. 

In an ideal environment you get back about as much energy from your work as you put in. You collaborate well with others in the company, your input and work are valued, you have a clear sense of upward mobility, and you can make steady progress on meaningful work. That’s worth seeking out.

Final thoughts 

You may have found that option number three – leaving your current job – resonated the most, in which case I may be the final nudge to take action. However, it also may be the case that there are still ways for you to try and bring about incremental change. 

Even if that fails, there are still ways to make your job enjoyable. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide where to go from here, but at least you’re equipped with some potentially fruitful alternatives.