Podcast Episode 10: When you are excluded in the workplace

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This episode we’ll talk about what to do when you’re excluded in the workplace and make some suggestions for managing your mind and the discomfort that ostracism delivers. 
We’ll also: 

  1. unpack why this usually happens 
  2.  discuss tactics for managing your discomfort 
  3. review 6 suggestions for how to move forward

⁣Not being invited to meetings, being left out of key workplace decisions, or even being excluded from company outings can be both incredibly painful and detrimental to your career.

Read the Transcript
Hey my friends. 

I am glad you are all here. 

Today I want to talk about being excluded or being ostracized at work. As it can be totally brutal. 

Being intentionally or unintentionally excluded has ramifications–it can lead to further disengagement or loss of vital information.

This episode we’ll talk about how it shows up and make some suggestions for managing your mind and the pain ostracism delivers. 

While we can’t really get into a colleague’s headspace and their motives, unpacking why this happens can be helpful and managing your own thoughts on how you want to deal with it if it happens to you. 
Not being invited to meetings, being left out of key workplace decisions, or even being excluded from company outings can be both incredibly painful and detrimental to your career. 

You sense people are acting differently towards you and the experience can be rather passive-aggressive. 

As the data around the impact of harassment and bullying in the workplace is becoming more known, according to
Harvard Business Review and research from The University of British Columbia, Vancouver, studies show that about
71% of professionals experienced some degree of exclusion or social isolation in a six-month period. Not only is ostracism more common than outright harassment, research has also shown that experiencing ostracism in the workplace can in fact be more psychologically harmful than being the target of more overt aggressive behavior. 

In the purest form, ostracism is being excluded from a group. It’s the act of what someone didn’t do…They didn’t invite you to the event, they left you an email, or they didn’t send you the presentation that you are expected to participate in. 

I’ve seen it show up when you didn’t get asked if you wanted to join the lunch order, you weren’t invited to the team outing, or when your contributions are continually ignored. It feels like a high school mentality. Friends at work are a bonus and if it feels like they don’t like you it’s humiliating. But for many, it’s worse than high school because you can’t just find a new circle to sit within the caf. 

It’s totally possible that the co-worker did not mean the slight or they may be socially insensitive, thinking it’s just one lunch, it’s not that big of a deal. 

But those who know they are doing it, research shows that they are doing it to avoid handling a conflict or are looking for a way to create distance from you to protect themselves. 

What’s shocking to me is when I learned that most managers do not view ostracism as harmful or socially unacceptable. I think they were raised by wolves. 

How can it not be harmful? It can feel pretty crappy. It’s a classic fear of rejection. Rejection is primal. Being ostracized or excluded used to mean banishment or death. Now it signals that we are socially worthless and lack chemistry with the group–a group that in these examples we were depending on for our cash–our livelihood. 

We are so programmed to seek acceptance from others. We think social approval tells us that we are ‘OK’ or that we get to remain part of the group.  

Research shows that ostracism is incredibly harmful. What further destabilizes us is when it’s ambiguous and it’s not totally clear when the act of omission was intentional or not. I think we all have experienced the regret of accidentally leaving a colleague off an email. We feel bad. But the person who was omitted probably feels worse. 

There was a time a few years ago, when I was still in corporate, that I was not invited to the International Women’s
Day lunch my company was hosting for all female executives. I didn’t even know there was a luncheon. 

I remember looking across the floor and it was basically empty. I kept thinking ‘where is everyone?’ Worse, I got nervous that I was supposed to be somewhere and that I forgot. It didn’t occur to me at first that the female exes were all gone until a junior male colleague popped in my office and sweetly asked me ‘why didn’t you go to the luncheon?’ He then inquired, ‘can I help you with something so you can get out of here?.’

I remember time slowed down and I had this intense tightening in my chest. I wasn’t invited to a female executive luncheon? It’s not like there were so many female executives in these parts that it’s easy to let one slip out of your hands. 

There was a female president who was in the office next to me, and I vaguely recalled that she was extra dressed up when I saw her earlier. I felt pretty awful. Why didn’t she say something to me when she was leaving for the lunch? I wasn’t blaming her, but it was weird. And I didn’t have answers. 

I’ll pause and tell you that at this point I had been a certified mindset coach for almost 10 years and I was getting my face coached off regularly so my reaction was one of a managed mind. 

I realized that at that moment I had a choice. I could be all weird and I could make up a lie, which my colleague wouldn’t believe anyway because he could see by my face, that I was a bit shocked. Or I could be vulnerable. I could just tell him the truth. Since it’s easiest to remember the truth, that’s what I did. I was at a point in my career but I just wanted authenticity and truth. So I said to him ‘I didn’t know about it. 

His reaction was one of disbelief and that it had to be a mistake or that I had to have missed the email. I checked. I didn’t miss anything. I wasn’t included. I was left off the list. 
Within about an hour the pictures started making the rounds on Facebook and Instagram. Pictures of my colleagues, whom I considered friends, all raising a glass and celebrating their achievements. It was really painful. And so confusing. Yet I wasn’t mad at them. Sure I had FOMO, but I didn’t blame them for making the list while I was left off the list. But I did wrack my brain to try to figure out what I did or whose ring I forgot to kiss. I came up with nothing.
I mentioned it to my boss and he sounded genuinely surprised. He wasn’t aware of the event either. Later told me it was an oversight. 

A few weeks later that junior male colleague popped into my office and told me that he was surprised that I told him the truth on the day of the luncheon. He said he always admired me but now he trusts me even more because I told the truth. I told him to get the eff out of my office before I had an ugly cry. 

Ostracism can be the result of your decisions, behavior, and performance. And the result of being ostracized is the impact on your work, first, being left out means that you miss out on critical information. Which may impact your work. It can impact your commitment and motivation. 

Socially, you may shrink. Loneliness in the workplace is at epidemic levels. You overthink. Avoid eye contact when they all return from the event. The loss of shared experiences and connections like in my experience can lead to further disengagement. It may also have some level of psychological withdrawal. There can even be a feeling of shame. 

So what do you do? 

First, as hard as this may be, understand that it has nothing to do with you. Even if your name is written all over the experience, the exclusion is about the OTHER person’s mindset and how they are choosing to manage their thoughts and actions. It may FEEL like it’s about you but it’s really how THEY want to manage their actions. 

Understand the impact. When you know the real impact, your level or pain and discomfort will ebb and flow depending on the perceived threat to your career. I know it’s painful. I’ve been there. But what is the real impact?
How important is it? This is not some BS toxic positive thinking, this is really asking yourself will it be important in 2 hours? 2 Days? 2 weeks? Months? Years? Calibrate your thoughts and feelings accordingly. 

Separate fact from story. Were others included from your department or level? Were you the only one excluded? I offer you to think about how you want to manage your mind around the FACTS, not what you think happened. Can you check with other confidants to ascertain the situation? From there you have an opportunity to decide how you want to think about this situation. While I will probably never really know, what happen with my luncheon invite, I did watch my thoughts and I got curious. What was true? If it was true, was it helpful to think negative thoughts? 

Go where you’re celebrated not where you’re tolerated. It’s understandable and pretty normal to feel bad. Allow yourself to feel it, maybe even have a good cry. Find Allies. Find people within the team that do value your contributions and opinions. Find ways to strengthen those relationships both professionally and socially. 

Broaden your network. If you are being excluded, find other people in the department who can help you get the information you need. 

If the situation continues, document it. Keep a track of the incidences. Keep track of this data will help you determine if you want to address it with the individual, HR, or management

Hire a coach. The greatest gift I have ever given myself was learning how to manage my mind. Working with a coach taught me how to rethink and reset situations that were out of my control. Without managing my mind, I’m like a toddler. 

Workplace friendships can be complicated. Mutual self-disclosure is the basis for many friendships but that doesn’t always create the healthiest professional relationship especially when tension and competition seep in. Not everyone is going to be included in everything nor should they be. But I am a stand for employee wellbeing and we all need to demand a level of professionalism and respect between colleagues.

I believe it’s possible and I’d love to hear your thoughts and answer any questions. 

Email Hello@Jillgriffinconsulting.com

Alright my friends,we’ll talk soon. Bye for now. 

Follow @jillGriffinOfficial on Instagram daily inspiration.

Tune into The Refresh Your Career Podcast Available on all streaming apps. https://jillgriffin.buzzsprout.com/