What can a leader do about Ostracism in the workplace?

“It doesn't matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed”

Our Lips Are Sealed by the Go Go’s (click here for the song)

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Earlier in the year I wrote about my concerns regarding incivility in remote work (click here for the blog). This week I was reminded of one of the more complex yet extremely damaging types of inappropriate interpersonal behaviour: Ostracism. Researchers have found that ostracism has stronger detrimental effects on employees’ psychological wellbeing than other types of misconduct, such as sexual harassment and aggression. Ostracism is subtle and quite ambiguous:

  • it can be caused by both action (excluding) as well as inaction (omission of inclusion),

  • it can be defined by perceptions, or behaviours.

  • occasionally, behaviour may be perceived as ostracism when in effect it is not.

Ostracism presents a lot of confusion to the victim, as they may not know why it is happening, or if it is indeed happening.

What are the personal impacts of ostracism?

  • Physical pain

  • Decreased self-concept

  • Drop in self-esteem

  • Feelings of rejection

  • Decreased self-perception

  • Increased stress levels especially at work,

  • Emotional exhaustion, and

  • Depression

Sadly, ostracism is corrosive to psychological wellbeing whether or not it is intentional, face to face, or online.

“But you're the gossip girl I thought you were real to me The gossip girl But you're just plastic, girl Shiny plastic hard shell”


Gossip Girl by Grace Vanderwaal (click here for the song, the first few seconds are brilliant)

What are the organisational impacts of ostracism?

  • Highly Corrosive to people and groups

  • Decreases job performance

  • Decreases discretionary effort

  • Decreases organisational citizenship behaviour, (ie the extra things employees do above and beyond their role)

  • Increases counter productive behaviour – (ie staff act out in negative ways)

  • Increases turnover

  • Decreases job satisfaction

  • Creates a negative perception of the organisation

Ironically, manipulative bosses may use ostracism:

  • as a punishment for violating the rules,

  • as a technique for bringing people into line, or

  • to make the workplace so intolerable that specific employees people quit



"It’s a type of violence against the individual... It’s insidious.. it takes therapy a while to cure.. just don’t do it "

Ben Baran, and Chris Everett



What can a leader do to reduce the likelihood of ostracism in their workplace?


  • Increase the quality of your relationships with direct reports

  • Avoid fault lines between subgroups

  • Be mindful to not create unintentional in and out groups

  • Be aware to remove non-intentional ostracism from the workplace

  • Stick to your morals and set the norms for the group

  • Learn and use evidence based leadership practices

  • Recruit according to values and inclusive behaviour

  • Help your employees find social support at work (click here for my blog on workplace support)

  • Be mindful of your behaviour especially when you are very busy or stressed

  • Remember you won’t do any harm by reaching out to everyone on a regular basis

  • Be cognisant of who is in your team to ensure that there is never ostracism because “out of sight out of mind”

  • Foster high-quality interactions connections between all employees, as relationships between remote co-workers are as rewarding as relationships between onsite co-workers and remote working has a propensity to task rather than interpersonal interactions.


Please remember, that:

Ostracism needs to be addressed because it’s inappropriate. Reach out to an HR, or an employment lawyer if the inappropriate behaviour has crossed the line.



References


https://www.indigotogether.com/indigopodcast/josh-cogswell-on-workplace-ostracism


Williams, K.D., Cheung, C.K.T. and Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(5), pp.748–762.


News | Hofstra University, New York. (2020). Workplace Ostracism: People’s Psychological Attributions and Coping Strategies. [online] Available at: https://news.hofstra.edu/2020/05/21/workplace-ostracism-peoples-psychological-attributions-coping-strategies/ [Accessed 17 Nov. 2020].


Liu, H. and Xia, H. (2016). Workplace Ostracism: A Review and Directions for Future Research. Journal of Human Resource and Sustainability Studies, 04(03), pp.197–201.


Howard, M.C., Cogswell, J.E. and Smith, M.B. (2019). The antecedents and outcomes of workplace ostracism: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology.


Quade, M.J., Greenbaum, R.L. and Petrenko, O.V. (2016). “I don’t want to be near you, unless…”: The interactive effect of unethical behavior and performance onto relationship conflict and workplace ostracism. Personnel Psychology, 70(3), pp.675–709.

Steinbauer, R., Renn, R.W., Chen, H.S. and Rhew, N. (2018). Workplace ostracism, self-regulation, and job performance: Moderating role of intrinsic work motivation. The Journal of Social Psychology, 158(6), pp.767–783.

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