Workplace Ostracism — Another Office Politics to be Seriously Dealt with

Sayantani Banerjee
7 min readOct 6, 2022

You cannot escape office politics if you are a working person. Whether it is a government office or a corporate firm, you are bound to face it everywhere, every day. These office politics often lead to negative experiences that leave deep scars in the mind and life of a person.

The persons facing toxic office politics often leave their jobs too quickly. The company loses valued employees without knowing the actual reasons behind their resignations. One such cause is the feeling of exclusion.

Feeling of Exclusion from Formal as well as Informal Relationships can lead to Disengagement in Workplace

Have you ever witnessed the case where you are being excluded from major discussions at the office and then the information are also not passed on to you properly and on time? Well, this is a telltale sign of “ YOU” being “ EXCLUDED” from Formal as well as Informal Relationships in the office. This is also known as workplace ostracism. Here the targeted employee is excluded from or dismissed in a group either intentionally or unintentionally.

  • Unintentional ostracism: — This case arises due to affinity bias. It is our natural tendency to be drawn to people similar to ourselves. Your communication style may not be like others or your peers have different expectations for your working relationship. As a result a distance or a barrier is created between your colleagues and you.
  • Intentional ostracism: — The motive behind such behaviour on the part of the peers may be personal or professional. In most of the cases they are premediated. This intent may not be malicious all the time.

To understand why such things happen, let me share the true story of Sheila (name changed to hide the identity of the victim), a middle-aged woman who started her new career in digital marketing at the age of 36. She was referenced to a well-known IT firm of Kolkata and was employed as a fresher in the respective field.

Sheila was an introvert and shy person, who believes in good work culture and was dedicated towards her responsibilities. The first shocking experience that she had after joining the new company was that she was neither properly and formally introduced to her colleagues who kept guessing about her designation and duties. The attitude of her team leader was so casual that she wondered whether she was actually hired for a respectable job or just a casual labour.

Sheila’s workload was not discussed in front of her. No scrum calls or daily office meetings were held where she would be included in discussions. Explicit responsibilities were thrust upon her every now and then and she found it very difficult to adjust routine and deliver. Her colleagues would keep asking her, “Why are you here?”, “What are your duties?”. Sheila felt awkward and could not answer properly to their queries. As a result her colleagues started doubting her importance in the team and soon started avoiding her.

For Sheila being left out came in different forms. It seemed that almost non of the social aspects of life at work are meant for Sheila. Whenever she would approach them with a friendly gesture, her colleagues would either snap back with lewd comments, or just keep silent. While others socialized in their cliches, Sheila was not welcomed to join in. Her team leader would go for lunch with her favourite team members, but Sheila was never invited. None of the team members ever asked for her phone number to be kept in their contact list. Even most of them avoided casual daily conversation with Sheila as much as they could. As I told you Sheila was an introvert and shy woman, and though she never craved for close relationship with co-workers inside the office, she, like most of us, also has a baseline need to feel seen, welcome, and safe.

But why such workplace ostracism happened with Sheila?

The first and foremost reason behind this is the feel threatened by the sheer presence of a particular person.

When Sheila was hired there was a major structural change going on in the digital marketing team of that company. Some are being promoted to a team leader position, some are being demoted to mere content writer or a senior graphic designer. Every one of the previously hired employees were feeling unsafe and uncomfortable. The constant fear of being replaced by another newcomer in the office may have played in the backdrop of Sheila being ostracised by fellow colleagues. Being referred by someone important in the team has also played behind.

We have a tendency to doubt a referee in an office as the human weapon the management uses to backstab the targeted employees or as a replacement for them. Sheila’s talents were used in such a manner that it created a terror among the seniors.

Sheila was a multi-talented person having substantial experience in graphic designing, copywriting, and visualization. She was a trained digital marketer also. Though fresher in the field of marketing she had the intelligence to grab the subject quickly and deliver results in a short time. This characteristic trait of her is something everyone in the office disliked.

Whenever a copywriter failed to deliver a task, Sheila was summoned to do it. And she could do it perfectly! When a graphic designer was absent, she was asked to complete the unfinished works and to the dismay of her peers, she could do it even better than them. She was good at content writing, copywriting, visualization, graphic designing, and a very quick thinker also. Aren’t these enough to create a fear factor among her colleagues?

The fear of being replaced by Sheila because of her talents, the silent threats by the higher authority made the seniors feel uncomfortable and unsafe in the workplace. To prevent Sheila from getting the upper hand, they devised a method to make her feel uncomfortable, threatened and unsafe! And that method is ‘ to exclude Sheila from everything and also anything that might help her thrive’.

How does workplace ostracism affect a victim?

The emotional effects of workplace ostracism can be severe. Humans are social beings. They like to get involved in anything happening around them. Even a shy and introvert person may become talkative if she finds herself among like-minded people. Exclusion brings loneliness, anger and shame that take a toll on the mental health of the person who is being ostracised. There are many instances where an ostracised person is seen committing suicide for not being able to bear the humiliation and mental agony.

Many victims respond to such a situation by avoidance, absenteeism and hostility. Sheila first resorted to avoidance. She concentrated more on improving her quality of work, hoping her managers would like her work and reward her duly. When she succeeded in doing so, her colleagues became doubly threatened by her success and increased the rate of ‘torture by exclusion’.

People who feel excluded at workplace are significantly more likely to quit their jobs. Sheila did the same after one and a half year. Workplace ostracism gave her a profound psychological blow that needed to be taken care of immediately.

Why can’t the victim of workplace ostracism complain against such misbehaviour?

Victims of exclusion at workplaces simply can’t complain because of the following reasons: -

  • Workplace ostracism mainly consists of verbal insults or physical gestures in a disguised and invisible manner that seems threatening.
  • Since most of the time it is intentional the complaints of the victims were ignored by co-workers or supervisors.
  • Very little or no evidence to document the unfair treatment or harassment at work could be found

When Sheila finally complained against the misbehaviour of the colleagues, she was humiliated by her team leader in front of the whole office who called her psychologically deranged and made her sit away from other team members, isolated and alone, facing the bare wall with everyone laughing at her back.

How can workplace ostracism be dealt with?

Many victims of workplace ostracism end up in mental hospitals or at home. They shy away from society in order to avoid more of such unpleasant incidences in their life. But Sheila didn’t do so. She kept on working in various companies with full vigour. But this time she was extra cautious. She took the precautionary steps to deal with the matter.

  1. Assessing the situation well: — Whenever ostracism occurred Sheila would care judge the situation. She would like to find out whether it is a one-time experience or a persistent problem to be reported.
  2. Avoiding the co-workers: — Sheila avoids confronting co-workers who misbehave with her.
  3. Keeping records of misbehaviour: — She kept records of each and every insulting behavior she faced and reported directly to the HR. This solved her problems on time.
  4. Maintaining professionalism: — Sheila now hardly pays attention to deliberate disregard of co-workers and maintains her professionalism.
  5. Divulging into other activities: — To keep herself away from the negative effects of workplace ostracism, Sheila keeps herself engaged in those activities that make her feel happy and satisfied.
  6. Finding a mentor: — Whenever Sheila faces any serious problems in the workplace, she takes the help of a mentor who guides her well to overcome the situation.

Instead of bowing out from the situation, try to understand the root cause behind it, deal with it and solve it with the help of a good mediator. Workplace ostracism can then be avoided and every co-worker will feel safe to work.

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Sayantani Banerjee

A designer by passion, a writer by choice, a digital marketer by profession