Understanding Workplace Ostracism & Its Effects on Employees

June 13, 201911:30 am
Generic placeholder image

Sally is a new trainee in Company X. She has been joining in the training program for a month, while her friend Marina has been in training for 4 months. Their supervisor in the company sees Sally as a talented and hardworking individual so he plans to promote her as full-time employee immediately. Upon hearing the news, however, Marina is jealous of her achievement that then she spreads unpleasant rumours about Sally. As the rumours spread on the office floor, Sally suddenly becomes a victim of ostracism.

What is ostracism?

Ostracism is a situation of exclusion or dismissal from a group. This situation includes when employees feel ignored and sidelined by other workplace fellows as a result of professional or personal problem. Ostracism is more about emotional than physical punishment. A different way of ostracising at a workplace can be through ex-communication, silent treatment, silent bullying, or office harassment. This means workplace ostracism can be as dangerous as workplace bullying.

See also: The Importance and Danger of Overconfident Individuals

What is the harm of workplace ostracism?

According to Xiaoming Zheng’s research, individuals who suffer from ostracism might suffer from long-term emotional injury and other destructive impacts on a variety of attitudes and behaviours. It affects badly on the victim’s psychological condition which results in higher turnover. Zheng highlighted that workplace ostracism is positively related to employee’s intentions to leave the organisation. From the 66 percent of respondents in the research that had received silent treatment, 29 percent reported that they intentionally left the job.

Other studies by Yang Cheng and Long-Zeng Wu on workplace ostracism revealed that exclusion is highly linked to psychological distress, sleep quality, and productivity. Workplace ostracism is also negatively associated with a psychological detachment which impairs sleep quality. Employees who are being ostracized are likely to experience negative self-perceptions and negative emotions which in turn, cause them to experience a lack of control and loss productivity.

Moreover, being excluded from a team will also make the victim feel lonely, sad, ashamed, or angry. These effects of ostracism then result in stress of being rejected. If this continues in the long run, ostracism can lead to reduced immune response and increase the risk of early death through a wide variety of diseases.  

Ostracism will make the victim feels that their social ties are weakened. They will feel that they do not belong to the community anymore which results in negative self-thinking and/or behaviour. In the end, it affects their overall wellbeing and health.

How to deal with workplace ostracism?

Prevention is better than cure. Therefore, you should find a good way to prevent ostracism from happening in your office environment. Here are ways you can apply to prevent workplace ostracism.

1.   Fostering a harmonious and inclusive environment

Let your employees express their voices based on mutual respect. You should also frequently take part in group activities that consequently enhance an interpersonal relationship. Additionally, when assigning a task, you can change it from individual-oriented to team-oriented workload. This act can make fellow employees cooperate with each other and discourage ostracism. You should also pay attention to employees who are neurotic and introverted as they are more likely to receive ostracism.

2.   Adopting intervention to strengthen psychological detachment

This can be done by engaging employees to what interests them the most. For example, your workers should be involved in activities they love, such as volunteering work or leisure activities. In addition, physical and psychological boundaries should be set between work times to enhance an employee’s psychological detachment. It includes work-related matter only at work, and avoid work-related matter outside. Acknowledge your employees that work-related issues should not be carried out in conversation after a workday.

Therefore, companies should provide training and guidance on how to improve psychological detachment from the workload. For example, training to set priorities, time-management skill, job skill, and to finish a task on time while avoiding ruminating on work-related issues in off-hours.

3.   Making the use of humour

Coping with humour is a useful way to deal with workplace ostracism and undermine its negative effects. Strengthening your employees’ ability to use humour as a way of coping with occupational stressors in their daily life can be a good thing. You can help them by giving employee training and humour management. Humour will restructure your employee cognitions and re-evaluate the negative situation, making it seem less stressful.

Read also: The Dark Side of Human Resources in Today’s Tech-driven Industry