Mental Health at Work: Workplace Ostracism

A story was shared on Linkedln by a friend, an older gentleman was sad because no one talks to him at work. He has been working for this big organization for the last 8 years, but he is a visible minority. When he was asked “why are you still working there?”, the response he gave was, “I have many people that depend on me, and the likelihood of getting another job is very rare” (Permission was given by the author to share this story). Many similar stories are shared online. These are prime examples of workplace ostracism.

Have you ever felt left out of your workplace?  

Workplace Ostracism

Here are the common social aspects of life at work: saying hello in the morning, casual conversation throughout the day, and maybe some drinks after work. However, not everyone has close friendship with co-workers, but we all have a baseline that we need to feel seen, welcome, and safe. When you are being rejected, ignored or feeling left out by others, you are experiencing Workplace Ostracism.

Here are some examples as followed:

  • Being ignored or avoided at work
  • Being excluded from conversations
  • Suffering the silent treatment
  • Not being invited to work events / coffee breaks
  • Keeping information from you that you should know
  • Paying little attention to / interest in your opinion

It is a painful experience with various harmful physical, psychological, and work-related consequences. Unfortunately,“Ostracism is as common a phenomenon in the workplace as it is in the school yard.”

Why Does it Matter?

Canadian researchers have found that “being ignored, excluded, or overlooked at work inflicts has more damage on our physical and mental health than dose being harassed.”

Workplace Ostracism is a dangerous style of workplace bullying as it is not as easily identified as other workplace bullying styles, such as openly insulting, threatening or sexual harassment. This can lead to instant and long-term emotional injury to the person who is going through it, such as sadness, loneliness, shame and anger. In the long run, it can lead to reduced immune response and increased risk of early death through a wide variety of diseases.

Shockingly, it is not just an individual’s social issue, yet also a managerial one. Workplace exclusion can discourage an employee’s work engagement. When a person is given a feeling that they are not a oneness with the company, they are not being encouraged to show their value in their work or make an additional effort to benefit the organization and its employees.

Everyone deserves to feel comfortable and safe at work. If that’s not happening, something needs to change.

What can individuals do if they feel excluded at work?

1. Process the Emotions

It’s normal to have a strong emotional response to being left out. Just take your time to process it before talking about it to your manager. For example, talking to a friend or a trusted colleague, working with a mental healthcare provider, or simply pausing, breathing, and acknowledging what you’re feeling.

2. Identify the Reason

Try to figure out why your co-workers are doing this to you. Don’t they like you because of your social habits, or because you belong to a specific age group, status, and gender? Is it only a one-time experience or is it continues happening? It will help you to get a solution once you identify the reason.

3. Set a Safe Environment

Don’t be afraid to speak up! Bring this up to your management team. Set a specific time for a conversation once you know who you are going to talk to, or if you have a strong and trusting relationship with your manager, they could be a great resource for talking through next steps.

4. Repair Harm

Repairing harm is very important and it is not about to make others feel guilty, or about to have any other punishment. It’s about taking next steps to address the negative impact productively. Having a deeper and thorough understanding of what you want your working relationship to be, being able to express feelings that you’ve been constricted by holding onto and knowing that you’ve been heard are all powerful outcomes in themselves.

What should an organization do to reduce Workplace ostracism?

Organizations should encourage communication, cooperation, and increased support. Employees need to be given opportunities to build their social skills, and they are better equipped to cope with and reduce social ostracism at work.

Educating management and employees about the nature and results of ostracism can also help to set a safe work environment for employees. Educating all at the workplace means that workers can notice the early signs of ostracism and take in more immediate and successful means for compromise and dealing with their relationship with their management and other co-workers.

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