The Impact of Workplace Ostracism on Employees

workplace ostracism workplace bullying anxiety and gossip of businesswoman with depression, mental health issues

In this article we take a closer look at the workplace ostracism, the concealed consequences of exclusion and we discover why fostering inclusivity is beneficial and a strategic imperative for nurturing a thriving, engaged, high-performing workforce.

What is workplace ostracism?

Workplace ostracism refers to the subtle yet damaging act of excluding certain employees from social interactions, conversations, and collaborations within an organization. Interpersonal cruelty can take various forms, such as ignoring someone's contributions, intentionally excluding them from meetings, or giving them the "silent treatment."

These actions might seem small, but their cumulative effect can be deeply hurtful and emotionally distressing to the individuals experiencing them.


Here are a few examples to illustrate the different scenarios of workplace ostracism:

  • Isolation: Employees consistently find themselves excluded from team lunches and after-work gatherings, making them feel like outsiders in the group.

  • Information hoarding: Certain team members intentionally withhold crucial information from a colleague, making it difficult for them to perform their tasks effectively.

  • Credit denial: Employees' ideas are often ignored in meetings, and their contributions are credited to others, leaving them feeling invisible.

  • Exclusion from decision-making: An employee is consistently left out of important decisions, even those directly related to their role and responsibilities.

What are the different types of ostracism?

Ostracism can manifest in various forms, each with its own unique characteristics and effects on individuals. Here are some different types of ostracism:

Exclusion ostracism - This is the most common type, where an individual is intentionally excluded from social interactions, conversations, activities, or events within the workplace. Exclusion ostracism can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and a lack of belonging.

Relational ostracism - This form involves ignoring, avoiding, or distancing oneself from a particular individual. It may include avoiding eye contact, refusing to engage in conversations, or providing minimal responses when interacting.

Informational ostracism - In this type, an individual is intentionally left out of important communications, meetings, or discussions. They are excluded from receiving critical information necessary for their work responsibilities or decision-making processes.

Cyber ostracism - With the rise of digital communication, cyber ostracism involves excluding someone from online conversations, emails, or group messages. It's particularly relevant in remote work settings or organizations relying heavily on digital communication tools.

Passive ostracism - Passive ostracism involves not actively participating in excluding behavior, but also not taking any action to include or support the ostracized individual. It's characterized by bystander behavior.

Systemic ostracism - This occurs when an individual or group is systematically excluded from opportunities, promotions, or resources due to factors like race, gender, age, or other protected characteristics. It's a broader form of exclusion that stems from organizational or societal biases.

It's important to recognize that different types of ostracism can intertwine and overlap, leading to complex dynamics within the workplace.

Common causes of ostracized at work

female employee working alone in meeting room

Ostracism in the workplace can harm an individual's well-being, job satisfaction, and overall performance. There can be various causes for someone being ostracized at work, and it's often a complex interplay of interpersonal dynamics, organizational culture, and individual behavior.

Here are some common causes:

Personality differences - Sometimes, personality clashes can lead to exclusion. If someone's communication style, values, or behaviors differ significantly from those of their colleagues, it might result in social isolation.

Perceived threat - If an individual is perceived as a threat by their colleagues due to their skills, competencies, or work performance, some coworkers might resort to ostracism as a way to minimize this perceived threat.

Office politics - Workplace politics can often lead to favoritism and exclusion of individuals who are not part of certain circles or alliances.

Jealousy and envy - Success and recognition can trigger feelings of jealousy or envy among coworkers. This can lead to excluding the successful individual from social interactions or important conversations.

Competition - Intense competition for limited resources, promotions, or other opportunities can create an environment where coworkers exclude one another to gain a competitive edge.

Unresolved conflicts - Past conflicts that remain unresolved can result in ongoing tension, making others more likely to avoid or ostracize the person involved.

Cultural or diversity differences - In diverse workplaces, cultural differences might lead to misunderstandings or discomfort, which can result in exclusion.

Bullying or harassment - Sometimes, individuals are ostracized as a form of bullying or harassment, either due to personal biases or a desire to exert control over others.

Must Read: How to Build a Comprehensive Anti-Harassment Policy

Changes in management - When there are changes in leadership or management, some employees might be ostracized if they were associated with the previous leadership or if they resist adapting to new management styles.

Workload discrepancies - If one person is consistently seen as not pulling their weight or overburdening others, coworkers might distance themselves from that individual.

Rumors and gossip - False rumors or negative gossip can lead to social exclusion, as coworkers might distance themselves from someone they believe to be problematic or untrustworthy.

Introversion and social anxiety - Individuals who are more introverted or struggle with social anxiety might find it challenging to engage in social interactions, which could lead to their unintentional exclusion.

Remote work or telecommuting - In situations where some employees work remotely while others are physically present, those who are remote might feel excluded from important discussions and casual interactions.

Useful Read: How to engage remote employees: Tips and Strategies

Lack of inclusivity in company culture - A workplace culture that doesn't prioritize inclusivity and diversity can foster an environment where certain individuals feel marginalized or ostracized.

Useful Read: The Inclusive Workplace: A Step-by-Step Guide to Diversity

Past mistakes - Previous errors or missteps might lead coworkers to avoid or ostracize an individual, particularly if the mistakes affected others' work.

It's important to note that workplace ostracism can have serious emotional and psychological effects on the targeted individuals. Organizations should promote a culture of inclusivity, clear communication, and conflict resolution to mitigate these issues and ensure a healthy work environment for all employees.

The impact of workplace ostracism on employees

employer separating wooden block symbolising employees from the team

The psychological and emotional toll

Experiencing workplace ostracism can significantly affect an individual's psychological and emotional well-being. The feelings of loneliness, rejection, and self-doubt arising from being excluded can lead to increased anxiety, depression, and decreased self-esteem.

Ostracized employees may begin to question their abilities and worth, which can in turn, negatively affect their overall mental health and well-being. Creating an inclusive work environment is crucial for employee engagement and maintaining their psychological well-being.

Performance and productivity

The connection between workplace ostracism and job performance is undeniable. Ostracized employees often struggle with maintaining their focus and motivation due to the emotional distress they experience. This can lead to decreased job satisfaction and a notable decline in productivity.

When individuals are preoccupied with the negative behaviors directed towards them, their energy and attention are diverted from their tasks, resulting in subpar work quality. As a result, the overall organizational performance can be compromised.

Team dynamics and collaboration

Ostracism doesn't only affect individual employees; it also has far-reaching effects on team dynamics and collaboration. When an employee is excluded, it hinders the team's ability to work cohesively and communicate openly.

Trust, a cornerstone of effective teamwork, can be eroded due to feelings of exclusion and the perception that certain team members are deliberately undermining others. This breakdown in collaboration can lead to an unhealthy peer group dynamic and ultimately impact both individual and organizational performance.

Implications of workplace ostracism for organizations

Increased turnover and decreased employee retention:

Workplace ostracism can drive employees away, leading to high turnover rates. When individuals feel excluded and undervalued, they are more likely to seek opportunities in environments that prioritize an inclusive workplace and healthier interpersonal relationships.

Impact on organizational culture and reputation:

The presence of workplace ostracism can poison the organizational culture, fostering an environment of negativity and exclusion. This not only affects employee well-being but also projects a tarnished image to the outside world, potentially damaging the organization's reputation.

Diminished organizational commitment:

Ostracized employees may experience a drop in their commitment to the organization. When they feel disconnected and undervalued, their dedication to the company's goals and values weakens, impacting overall organizational commitment.

Erosion of interpersonal relationships:

Ostracism can corrode the fabric of healthy interpersonal relationships within a team. Trust and camaraderie suffer, leading to strained communication and collaboration, ultimately undermining team cohesiveness.

Negative consequences on physical health:

The stress of workplace ostracism can take a toll on employees' physical health. Increased stress levels, anxiety, and other related issues can contribute to a decline in overall well-being and even lead to more serious health problems.

Reinforcement of negative behaviors:

If workplace aggression and negative behaviors go unchecked, they can spread like wildfire. Ostracism can inadvertently encourage a culture where such actions are tolerated, further deteriorating organizational behavior.

How to deal with workplace ostracism? Tips for employers

woman working alone in an office

Navigating and mitigating the effects of workplace ostracism demands a comprehensive and empathetic approach from employers. Here are eight detailed and highly effective tips to cultivate a workplace that values inclusivity and supports employees:

  • Lead by example: As a leader, your actions profoundly impact the work environment. Model the behavior you wish to see by actively engaging with all employees, regardless of their position. Show genuine interest in their contributions and well-being, fostering a culture where everyone's voice is heard and respected.

  • Promote open communication: Create platforms for open dialogue where employees can express their concerns without fear of retribution. Regularly hold one-on-one meetings to discuss their experiences and insights, enabling you to address any instances of ostracism promptly.

  • Implement comprehensive diversity training: Develop and implement thorough diversity and inclusion training programs. These should cover the subtleties of workplace ostracism, its effects, and strategies to prevent and address it. Ensure these programs are interactive, allowing employees to share their perspectives and learn from one another.

  • Provide robust conflict resolution resources: Equip your managers with advanced conflict resolution skills. When ostracism arises, managers should be adept at identifying the underlying issues, mediating conflicts, and fostering a more harmonious working relationship among team members.

  • Foster intentional team building: Organize various team-building activities that encourage genuine connections among employees. These activities can range from problem-solving challenges to volunteering efforts, fostering a sense of camaraderie and solidarity that discourages exclusion.

  • Recognize and reward inclusion efforts: Implement an employee recognition system that highlights and rewards inclusive behaviors. This can be regular awards, shout-outs in team meetings, or even promotions.

  • Create clear and comprehensive policies: Develop well-defined policies against workplace aggression and ostracism. Clearly communicate the consequences of engaging in such behaviors and the processes for reporting and addressing incidents. Regularly revisit these policies to ensure they remain relevant and effective.

Useful Read: From Positive to Problematic: 12 Workplace Behavior Traits

  • Offer a multifaceted support system: Recognize that those affected by ostracism may experience emotional distress. Provide access to professional counseling services, Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), and resources for managing stress and anxiety. Emphasize that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Useful Read: Stress Leave from work: Implications and Best Practices

By taking a meticulous and proactive approach to addressing workplace ostracism, you're fostering a harmonious and inclusive work environment, nurturing employee well-being, improving teamwork, and enhancing overall organizational performance.

Managerial role in mitigating workplace ostracism

Manager in conversation supporting employee

Managers play a pivotal role in preventing and addressing workplace ostracism. As leaders, they set the tone for the organizational culture and are responsible for fostering an inclusive environment where all employees feel valued and respected.

Managers can actively monitor team dynamics, promote open communication, and address any signs of exclusion. By proactively identifying and addressing instances of ostracism, managers can create a supportive atmosphere that enhances teamwork, collaboration, and overall employee well-being.

Here are six tips for managers to identify and address signs of workplace ostracism:

  • Promote open communication: Encourage regular team discussions where employees can express their concerns, share ideas, and discuss any discomfort they might be feeling. Be approachable and receptive to feedback, making it clear that you value each team member's input.

  • Observe social dynamics: Pay attention to how team members interact. It could be a sign of ostracism if you notice someone consistently being left out of conversations, meetings, or social gatherings.

  • Monitor work assignments: Watch for patterns in work distribution. If a team member is consistently excluded from important projects or tasks without valid reasons, it could be a sign of exclusion.

  • Stay attuned to emotional well-being: Be attuned to changes in behavior or mood among your team members. Someone who is being ostracized might exhibit signs of stress, anxiety, or reduced job satisfaction.

  • Address conflict promptly: If conflicts arise within the team, address them promptly and impartially. Unresolved conflicts can lead to exclusion and tension among team members.

  • Lead by example: Model inclusive behavior by treating all team members respectfully and fairly. Encourage collaboration and celebrate diverse perspectives, showcasing that inclusivity is a core value in the team.

Remember, the goal is to create an environment where all employees feel like they belong and are valued contributors. By actively addressing signs of ostracism, managers can foster a positive workplace culture that enhances team cohesion, productivity, and employee morale.

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In summary, workplace ostracism has far-reaching negative effects on employee well-being, performance, and team dynamics.

Fostering an inclusive environment through open communication, proactive management, and recognition of diversity is crucial for creating a positive and successful workplace.

Topic: Workplace
Rinaily Bonifacio

Written by:

Rinaily Bonifacio

Rinaily is a renowned expert in the field of human resources with years of industry experience. With a passion for writing high-quality HR content, Rinaily brings a unique perspective to the challenges and opportunities of the modern workplace. As an experienced HR professional and content writer, She has contributed to leading publications in the field of HR.


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