OPINION

Finding your place at work is important

SIGNIFICANT: As a new employee, it can be seriously difficult to break into an established clique in a workplace.
SIGNIFICANT: As a new employee, it can be seriously difficult to break into an established clique in a workplace.

Change is as good as a holiday, or so we are told. And yet, if you've ever changed schools as a kid, you'll know it can be daunting, overwhelming - even terrifying - to step into a new, competitive environment with people who all have their own established groups.

We all have an idea of who we are professionally. We understand what our values are, what's important to us, what we are good at, where our weaknesses lie.

But for many of us, much of what we believe about ourselves is understood contextually, within an environment of comparatives - our professional identity is often defined by our relationship with others, how we fit in within the team, how our strengths complement those of our colleagues.

We can find ourselves losing our sense of professional self when we step into a new workplace with new colleagues.

A survey by CareerBuilder tells us that 43 per cent of workers believe that their workplace is split into cliques.

We can find ourselves losing our sense of professional self when we step into a new workplace with new colleagues.

Cliques are "tightly knit groups of co-workers who socialise in and outside the office" and they are often exclusive.

It can be highly challenging to break into a clique in a workplace, especially when they replicate the high school experience: 20 per cent of survey respondents said that they've done something they weren't genuinely into just to "fit in," 19 per cent made fun of someone else or pretended not to like them purely to stay a part of the group, and 17 per cent even pretended to like a certain food!

Our social relationships at work can impact our professional identity as we often find ourselves cleaving to archetypal stereotypes: the class clown, the smart one, the jock, etc. What happens when we start a new job and the role we played in our previous workplace is already taken?

What if the person taking that archetypal role feels threatened by our new presence?

The same issues arise if our strengths clash with the strengths of those already in the workplace, or if what we are "known for" is no longer "known" or considered "special"?

How do we find our place in a team where we no longer know how we fit into our professional space?

You don't have to be the most popular person in the room, but you shouldn't feel uncomfortable.

Being able to work with those around us is still a significant part of our ability to be successful at work; whether we are a member of a clique or not, we need to be comfortable in our place of work.

We can't control everything around us, but there are things we can control to shape the narrative around our professional identity. We can't control other people. Not really. But we can control ourselves, our reactions to others and the decisions that we make when we are engaging with others.

However, our professional identity doesn't have to be solely defined by the external relationships we have within our workplace.

When our confidence and knowledge of our strengths and capabilities comes from within and not in comparison to those around us, we are no longer reliant on external context to recognise and retain our professional identity.

It is evident that cultural fit in hiring decisions is a key element to team design and recruitment process.

It's vital that we hire people who will fit into our teams as well as achieve our business goals - we have a responsibility here, as leaders in our workplaces, to ensure that our teams are cohesive and work well together.

Some organisations use personality tests like MBTI or DiSC as part of the recruitment process to gauge this. While this can be a helpful starting point, we can't use these tools as the decision maker.

We seem to be leaning heavily on tools like this in 21st century HR practices, with psychometric and personality testing becoming a common experience in the screening processes for job applications.

However, there is little that overrides a person's gut instinct and personal connection: we are more than our categories on a test.

Whether we are new in a job or welcoming a new person into our team, the team dynamic will change and we all need to be adaptable to change the way we connect with each other and ourselves.

After all, change is inevitable. How we manage it is up to us.

Zoë Wundenberg is a careers consultant and un/employment advocateat impressability.com.au