How to get along with most of the people at work, most of the time

Photo: Tom Merton / Getty.

While it’s quite possible to get a good sense of how well you are suited to the culture of a workplace before accepting a job offer, there’s no guarantee you will get on famously with all your new colleagues, however easy-going and friendly you might be. 

But your ability to get along with most people at work most of the time could be the most important asset you bring to work on day one, no matter how sought-after your professional skills are. It should come as no surprise that getting on with co-workers topped a 2015 list of factors contributing to happiness in the workplace. Fitting in will have a significant impact on how productive, happy and fulfilled you are in your job, as well as providing access to a ready-made social network with immense potential.

Here are a few suggestions to help you get off on a good social footing in a new job:

  • Try to attune yourself to the culture – the dress code, the level of formality, and the way colleagues interact professionally, etc. If you insist on wearing a suit when everyone else is in jeans and a t-shirt, it could send the message that you want to set yourself apart from the group.   
  • Accept invitations to meet your colleagues at social functions after hours or over lunch, where you can get to know them on a more personal level without the stresses and constraints of the immediate work environment.
  • Do some of the inviting. Show others you are interested in including and getting to know them, and they are more likely to think of inviting you to social outings in future. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask colleagues for help with work-related problems. As well as helping you get on with your job, it shows them you value their expertise and opinions.  
  • Don't be unnecessarily critical of your colleagues or their work. If you do have an issue with someone, approach them about it directly rather than complaining about them behind their back. (Rehearsing what you want to say to them in advance might help keep the conversation constructive and minimise confrontation.)

Different strokes

 Where you do hit it off with your co-workers, you may form amazing friendships which long outlast the time you end up working together.

However, if you are concerned that you don’t fit in at work, it’s important not to assume there is something wrong with you. Don’t give up. Even if the culture of your workplace doesn't appeal to you on first impressions, it's worth trying to develop alternatives. If, for example, your colleagues often go out drinking after work and pubs are not your thing, try suggesting alternatives – an outing to watch some sport, perhaps, or a gig or a movie. The odds are that you'll soon find like-minded people who would welcome the chance to do something different.

Of course, it is possible that, despite your best efforts, you and the culture simply don't match. If you really don't fit in at your workplace, you're unlikely to be very happy or to stay there very long. You may simply need to cut your losses and start looking for your next role elsewhere. There’s no shame in that: people are just different. But most workplaces of any size contain a remarkable variety of people, and persevering in your efforts to make connections will, more often than not, be well worth the effort.

For more related advice and information, see workSMART’s Getting on at Work section.