Belonging: One Lesser Known Cause Of Low Confidence At Work

Confidence

February 8, 2024

Let’s talk about that elusive thing called confidence that ebbs and flows as it likes and seems to abandon us in our time of need. 

Like when we have to deliver a talk, to sell ourselves in interviews or even when meeting new people. 

I have A LOT to say on this topic, but in this blog I’m going to zone in on one aspect – how our environment is sometimes the culprit for eroding our confidence. 

Let’s go into the archives

Think back to all the jobs you’ve ever had. 

Have you ever been in one where you didn’t fit in?

Maybe you didn’t look forward to coming into work and you definitely didn’t hang around for drinks after. Your colleagues just weren’t your ‘tribe’.

Or maybe you felt like an imposter at work. You got the job but you felt like you didn’t deserve to – you weren’t experienced enough, creative enough, or just good enough.

How does this effect you?

I’m going to hazard a guess that you weren’t brimming with confidence at that place.

Even if you started off feeling good about yourself when you joined the company, after a while, that faded and what crept in was doubt.

Did I make the right decision? What if I don’t ever get on with these people?

Doubt is the the antithesis of confidence. And when it starts, if it isn’t treated straight away, it sticks, festers and grows into other areas of our life.

You may have started with questioning your latest career decision, but soon you’re doubting your decision-making skills in general and then that spreads to doubting your skills, yourself, your career and your future.

Should you stick it out or go? But what if the next company is the same?

Do you pick another industry? Do you retrain altogether? Is it too late?

With all those questions whirrling away in your mind it’s easy to lose direction and start to feel unanchored.

Before you know it, you end up feeling as directionless as a piece of seaweed, uprooted from its base and being taken on a journey it did not ask for. 

What happened?

How did you go from sure-footed to shaky?

You stopped being your full self.

Which happens naturally when we feel like we don’t belong. We start to only show parts of ourselves – the parts we think would be accepted and won’t be judged. We stop being authentic and we start to conform.

But then when you keep parts of your true self hidden everyday, when you start to put on a mask to go to work, you start losing touch with yourself. The joy fades along with your sense of self.

Belonging is in our genes

The need to belong is a fundamental human need.

After all, the way we survived is by sticking to a tribe!

When we feel like we belong, we feel safe because the tribe has our back and won’t leave us behind.

If we don’t feel like we belong, we start getting anxious and experience emotional pain.

In fact, studies have found that if the need isn’t met then it has “significant detrimental implications for psychological well-being, including self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and cognition, as well as behavior.” (Waller, 2021)

Temporary relief

When we don’t feel like we belong, we start adjusting our behaviour to fit in with the implicit norms that group has laid down. 

Eg. you join everyone for Thursday drinks even though you prefer a night in. Or you join in with the gossiping and moaning even though that’s not really you.

And hey, there’s nothing wrong with trying to fit in for a short amount of time – like when you first join a company – it’s natural to want to be liked and you’re getting to know the people.

We also do it in our personal lives too, we change ourselves according to our group, our environment and even the time of day.

For example, how you act with your bestie on a Sat night out is very different to how you would act the next morning if you had to go to church with your in-laws. 

But it’s not good long-term.

Belonging at work

If you don’t feel like you belong, you question yourself. But it’s actually up to the organisation to create a space where employees feel safe, connected and valued. This is all part of Diversity, Equality and Inclusion, which all companies should be educating themselves on and implementing.

Great place to work defines belonging at a workplace as “an employee’s sense that their uniqueness is accepted and even treasured by their organization and colleagues”

So if you don’t feel accepted, it’s not necessarily your fault.

But what can you do about it?

What you can do

First of all, give it time.

When you first start at a job, it’s natural to feel like the odd one out. But that will pass, usually after the first 3 months.

If it doesn’t, and you have a niggling feeling that the situation won’t change, then start the job hunt and don’t make yourself suffer and stay on because “it looks bad on the CV if you leave in less than a year”.

Plenty of people make wrong moves, and it’s not always your fault, the companies aren’t always truthful when they hire people.

If you can’t change jobs immediately, then it’s important to find your tribe outside work so that you get charged up by being around like-minded people. 

Join a running club, a fitness club, a book club or take an in-person course in something that would make your inner creative child happy. 

But then spend time figuring out who your tribe are.

Who do you really get on with or get inspired by? Is it creatives, entrepreneurs, academics?

Drill in further – is it someone who is practical, quick witted, whimsical, a natural leader, an introvert?

Before you hop on a job board, you need to restore your confidence and your faith in yourself, in companies and your future.

Usually, it’s quite challenging to do this alone because your confidence has taken a hit and your mind is more likely to be filled with negative talk, fear and worry.

This is where coaching really comes into its own.

Career coaches especially can help clients remember their achievements, feel good about their strengths and learn how they can sell themselves in interviews without feeling like they’re boasting.

They will also help you debrief the work situation you’re coming out of and see it from a different perspective – you’ll see what you’ve gained and learn how to not take it personally or get hung up on it.

Lastly, they’ll help you identify who your tribe are and what workplace would be eternally grateful for your set of skills and experience.

My worst work experience

Just so you know you’re not alone if you’ve been in a terrible work place.

I worked in an office that was basically a replica of Wolf on Wall Street. 

The office was 75% men to 25% women. 

The women all worked in support roles, not in the leadership team (heavens forbid).

It smelt of clashing cologne and cigarettes and the level of misogyny there made it feel like I was working in the 60s. 

It was everything I hated in office life. 

Luckily it was only for 6 weeks or so, and I was doing it solely for the cash injection whilst I was setting myself up as a coach. 

Back then I would have said I was pretty secure within myself, I wasn’t worried about what those people thought of me. I knew who I was, I had direction and a game plan.

But even so, it still got to me. I still felt ‘other’ and it wasn’t a nice feeling to put on every morning and wear for 8 hours a day. 

If that’s you as well, don’t delay.

Start looking for your tribe and a place you belong, and watch your confidence soar. 

If you need help with that, book a free call to see how coaching can help you.

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