Have you ever felt left out at work? Maybe coworkers don’t invite you to lunch as frequently as they invite others. Perhaps colleagues shut you out of conversations or fail to ask for your opinion on important matters. If that rings a bell, you have been ostracized before. While being ostracized may seem like something you just need to “get over”, it has serious consequences for your well-being. Learn more about whether you’re being ostracized and what you can do about it below.

Being Left Out is Painful

Ostracism is the perception that you are being left out or ignored by others. Almost everyone has experienced being left out at some point in life. Children on playgrounds often demonstrate this behavior. Some kids are simply shunned by others. Unfortunately, for this reason, we associate this behavior with childishness. So, it can be hard for adults to admit that they are being ostracized or that they are affected by being left out. But, being ostracized at work is harmful and prevalent.

More importantly, being left out also causes pain. The same area of the brain that is activated for physical pain is also activated when people experience social rejection. Further, being ostracized threatens your self-esteem. It also threatens your feeling of belonging, your sense of control, and the overall meaning your life has. These are basic human needs that we all have. So, it makes sense that being left out is harmful. You feel less positively about yourself, your relationships, and your life when you are ostracized.

First, allow yourself to recognize that being left out is a real hardship. It isn’t any more childish to feel upset about being ostracized than it is to recognize that you feel physical pain. Being open to recognizing that you’re suffering from being left out allows you to address it! Be honest with yourself – are you being left out?

It's hard to be left out
It’s hard to admit that being left out is difficult. But, it’s only human to want to be connected to others!

How Do You Know If You’re Being Left Out?

Researchers have detailed the experiences that determine whether or not you’re being ostracized at work. Here are some common ways to tell if you’re being left out. Overall, if you’re feeling ignored or avoided by others, you are likely being ostracized. But, there are also more specific signals that indicate you are being left out by your colleagues.

Do others leave the room when you enter? Are you often sitting or standing alone? When you speak, are other colleagues looking away? Are employees refusing to listen to you or acting like what you said doesn’t matter? Do you have to start conversations with others, instead of being approached and included? Are your emails frequently unanswered by your colleagues or are you left off of important email chains? When people go to lunch or to happy hour, are you left sitting in the office, uninvited? If the answer to these questions is yes, you are likely experiencing ostracism at work.

On the flip side, if you are often the center of social circles, you might not realize who is left out. If you are frequently sought out for your thoughts or opinions, you might have to think about if you’re ostracizing others. If you are more likely to be invited to social gatherings or to be included in conversations, it might be harder to recognize when someone else is not. Most acts of ostracism are unintentional. Are you perpetrating these acts, even unconsciously, against others? If so, you might be causing others pain and upset at work.

Look for the signs of being left out!
There is no need to try to make it alone! Look for the signs of being left out and address them.

What to do to address ostracism in the workplace?

Unfortunately, while social support tends to play a positive role in alleviating most negative experiences at work, it is different in this case. When it comes to ostracism at work, having a lot of support at home seems to create a contrast effect instead. In other words, the more you realize you have support outside of work, the more confusing and painful being left out at work is.

However, it does seem to have a positive impact when you are able to increase your belief that you can change your circumstances. So, it might help to talk to others who have been left out, to find out how they dealt with it. It might also be a good idea to get another perspective on the situation, so that you can brainstorm how to build relationships with those who are leaving you out. In general, if you think you can change your circumstances, you are more likely to try to do so (and to be more successful at actually making that happen!). So, reach out to those who have had similar experiences or ask those you are close to if it has happened to them.

Finally, if you’re a manager, it’s really important to take ostracism seriously. If people are being left out, it can be just as harmful as when employees are experiencing more direct, rude acts. Role modeling inclusive behavior is key to growing an environment that will make it harder for coworkers to ostracize one another.

Overall, little things matter. What are the little things that are making your work environment more exclusive? Those are the things you want to cut out! We’ve talked about the value of inclusion before. Let us know what you think helps drive an inclusive culture in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you.

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