Workplace Ostracism (exclusion) and its emotional effect on Employee Engagement in India

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Ostracism is a situation of being, excluded or dismissed in a group. This includes cases where employee feels ignored or side-lined by other employees in the workplace. The motive can be personal or it can be professional that can very well be premeditated. Some may ostracize a fellow employee because the person is perceived to be a threat to his or her own promotion or position.

Ostracism and the lack of thorough employee engagement is a dangerous style of workplace bullying that is quite common in India and most parts of the developed and developing World and can lead to instant and long-term emotional injury to the person who is going through it. Different ways of ostracizing at workplace can be through ex-communication, silent treatment, silent bullying and office harassment. Research has shown that perceptions of being ostracized have destructive impacts on a variety of individual attitudes and behaviours and can also severely hamper employee engagement initiatives of the organization at large.

Potential causes of Workplace Ostracism in India

Ostracism or exclusion is one of the most broadly used forms of social retribution – more humane than physical punishment, but there is a profound psychological blow that needs to be taken seriously.

How is ostracism felt?

  • Ostracism mainly consists of verbal insults or threatening physical gestures, mostly invisible or disguised.
  • Ostracism is very destructive, in that it is very difficult to prove – those around you won’t admit that it is happening.
  • Very little or no evidence to document unfairness or harassment at work.
  • Purposefully ignored by co-workers or supervisors.
  • Deprived of information and updates essential for performing your work duties.
  • Purposely left off of email distribution lists.
  • Ignored by co-workers while attending meetings, or not notified of meetings.
  • Physically transferred from an active or comfortable work location and relocated to an area that is hostile, indifferent or of low visibility.

Effects of Ostracism:

  • Recent studies show that individuals who become the victim of ostracism have smaller support groups than in the past.
  • It can affect the perceptions, physiological conditions, attitude and behaviour which can lead to aggression.
  • Disengagement in the functioning of team increases which effects the productivity.
  • It can lead to sadness, loneliness, shame and anger.
  • The stress of being rejected, if continued in the long run, can lead to reduced immune response and increased risk of early death through a wide variety of diseases.

Dealing with Ostracism in the Workplace:

  1. Assess the situation

If ostracism is occurring, avoid confronting co-workers in an informal fashion and remain composed. Decide if it’s critical enough or to move on to the next step, or if it is just a one-time experience.

  1. Proof/Documentation of the treatment

If incidents occur regularly, write them down. Note the time, location, people involved and specific form of ostracism. Include as many details as possible and keep all documentation of incidents together in safe place.    This information will become necessary if the ostracism warrants legal action.

  1. Maintain Professionalism

Whether or not the reasons for the ostracism are justifiable, don’t give more opportunities to be ostracized. Do not pay attention to the glimpses, chuckles and deliberate disregard of co-workers.

The best defence is to consistently document and continue performing all required work duties. Be present at meetings, relate with co-workers and customers, and transact business in a professional way at all times.

  1. Look for new Acquaintances

A stressful work environment has significant impact on an employee’s productivity and mental health. Be certain to create wholesome acquaintances within the workplace.

  1. Consult a Mentor

A counsellor can recommend sensible advice and support. The mentor can also offer an objective viewpoint or insight. If nothing else, he or she can perform as a sounding board to safely voice frustration with the situation.

  1. Meet with a Company Mediator

Not all companies provide arbitrators, but generally, someone from the human resources department will be appointed to handle workplace harassment issues. This person conducts the investigation of the reported issues and provides viable resolutions.