[no]WURries: A reserved colleague

'A new colleague is very shy. How can we put him at ease?'


‘It might be an idea to pair up your colleague with a buddy within the chair group. One-to-one contact may feel less overwhelming for him. The buddy may also be able to persuade your colleague to join an activity by inviting him personally. In any case, show that your colleague is welcome; people who are shy usually do want to connect with the rest of the group, but they have to overcome a barrier to do so.’

Fenna van der Poel, teaching and research assistant at Animal Breeding and Genomics

Step by step

‘It is unfortunate when a new employee does not actively engage in occasions like coffee breaks and other activities. Given that it has been a few months since he started working in your group, I assume you gave him the chance to get familiar with his new working environment. Don’t ask you colleague to join every single activity; it might overwhelm him. Rather, first invite him for a low-key coffee break and gradually build up from there. And keep in mind that he simply might not enjoy such activities.’

Donné Mathijssen, PhD student in Fish Migration

Shift the focus

‘Organize a relaxed activity that is not all about socializing. It could be a film evening or a work-related outing, rather than a drinks party. At a film evening, you hardly need to talk, and a work-related activity feels familiar and within your comfort zone. Who knows, maybe that will help your colleague cross the threshold.’

Koen, Biology student

Get to know him

‘The first and most important step is to get to know your new colleague, just at the office. Find out what his interests are. Maybe he doesn’t go to drinks parties because he doesn’t drink, or doesn’t participate in sports activities because he’s not sporty. Or ask him to organize an activity with you that he likes very much. He can then show you all something without having to step out of his comfort zone, and at the same time you can get to know him better.’

M., PhD student of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences

Keep trying

‘Because of my maternity leave, the Covid crisis and my busy schedule, I might seem like “an outsider” in my group as well. Your colleague may have similar reasons. Maybe he appears reserved just because you are such a close-knit group, perhaps with inside jokes and fixed coffee times. Do not assume he will join without an invitation. Keep inviting him or simply ask him to come for a walk and grab lunch together. The more you ask, the more welcome and comfortable he’ll feel. If after a while he still won’t join, ask him if things are fine in his life in general and accept that he simply needs more time to unwind.’

Eirini Pegiou, PhD student of Plant Physiology

Next [WUR]ry:

If you have advice or tips for this Wurrier or if you need some advice yourself, email your tips or question by 25 May to resource@wur.nl, subject noWURries.

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