How to Cope with Ostracism at the Workplace

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How to Cope with Ostracism at the Workplace

Being ostracized by his/her coworkers may cause an individual to feel rejected, unwanted, and may even push him/her into depression. This Workspirited article will tell you how to cope with ostracism at the workplace.

“We’ve been taught that ignoring someone is socially preferable. But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”Professor Sandra Robinson, University of British Columbia

In the simplest words possible, the definition of ostracism can be stated as exclusion from a group or an organization or society. After all, man is a social animal. However independent he may be, he needs to depend on society for his needs―an important one among them being the sense of belonging.

The absence of social inclusion may have several repercussions on an individual’s mind. This is not only true for society, but even in a professional setting. Exclusion, rejection, silent harassment, and ignorance in the office qualify for ostracism at the workplace. In the paragraphs below, you will learn some tips to cope with workplace ostracism.

What is Ostracism?

  • The term ostracism has Greek origins. In ancient Greece, a suspicious citizen was ostracized or expelled from society and the state of Athens for a decade, to save the state or its people from a potential threat.
  • The concept was totally political, and the Athenians used it to banish a certain strata of people from the city.
  • As of today, ostracism deals with banishing (not literally) people from a group or society.
  • If people in a group/firm/society do not like a new entrant in their midst, they will do all they can and send out the message in clear signals, that they do not like this particular person and wouldn’t want him to be a part of the group.
  • This is sometimes exhibited in subtle ways, sometimes in a very outright manner, and sometimes, in the most undignified and uncouth way possible.
  • Even a small child may experience ostracism. This is experienced mostly on the first day itself, when some children form a group and one child is not included (ostracized) due to reasons unknown.
  • Workplace ostracism is fairly common. When the current staff does not like a new trainee, they will send out exclusion signals, laugh and talk amidst themselves, and even pass sarcastic comments; making the new person feel unwelcome and ostracized.
  • Dealing with this can be very difficult, people suffer rejection, insults, and abandonment. But, to retain sanity and self-esteem, one has to undertake some steps. A gist of the same has been provided below.

How to Deal With Ostracism

Exhibit Professionalism

  • Be very professional at work, and do not allow your coworkers’ behavior affect your work. Do not let the discomfort show on your face, through your body language or behavior.
  • Most people who ostracize others enjoy the feeling of excluding someone. When they find that their attitude has no effect, they will find you intriguing, and the behavior will stop after a while.
  • Do your work diligently, speak to them in a dignified manner only when necessary. Believe me, this kind of behavior makes people feel ashamed about themselves.
  • Maintaining poise and calm is tough―it will not be easy to ignore whispers, giggles, and smirks. But, never let your guard down. Walk and smile confidently, and watch the smirks disappear.

Speak to a Senior Colleague

  • Sometimes, when things get out of hand, it helps to have a talk with someone more experienced than yourself.
  • Talk to the senior management about the situation. Many organizations have in-house psychologists or counselors who may be able to help you in this regard.
  • Ostracism is a detrimental to a good work environment. Therefore, any member of the senior management will take immediate steps to eradicate the same.
  • Perhaps, he may organize team-building exercises and games to promote a feeling of oneness. Through such instances, you might be able to break the ice and establish a feeling of camaraderie with your fellow workers. Communicate directly with your colleagues.

Do a Self-Assessment

  • Not everybody is arrogant or egoistic, perhaps there is something about you, your habits, or maybe a misconception, due to which you may have been ostracized.
  • Assess yourself first. Are you a gossip monger? Do you dress shabbily? Do you smell bad? Ask yourself these questions and many more, and if your reply is in the affirmative, perhaps you have to reevaluate yourself.
  • Dress well, smell good, speak in a dignified manner. In other words, behave like a sophisticated, suave individual with whom people like to chat and spend time.
  • You must also see to it that you are well-read and socially knowledgeable so that you can have intellectual conversations and healthy debates.
  • Avoid talking informally to your colleagues; yet, let them know in subtle ways that you have implemented positive changes in yourself. In fact, they will begin to notice it themselves.


  • If you feel you are being excluded for no reason, you need to start documenting the instances. Note down the time, place, and details of the incident where you were ostracized. This may help you when you are formally complaining against ostracism.
  • Check whether your company’s policy includes ostracism as workplace harassment. If it does, you can consider taking legal action.
  • Frankly, this considered as the last option, because getting into a legal fight can turn messy.
  • Respect, at the end of the day, has to be earned, it cannot be bought or sold. And, it has to come from within, not by force.
  • If you complain to your manager/counselor and your colleagues get to know about the same, you might earn the title of being a whiner or a maverick who spreads false stories.
  • To work in a place where you are being labeled as a whiner is pathetic, and it would be better to quit (yes, I know it is not easy, so keep this as a last resort).
  • A legal action is even worse; you have to spend time, money, and effort, and you may be able to punish your offenders. But, do think about whether it is worth it.

Cultivate New Interests

  • A good work atmosphere begins with maintaining good professional relations with one’s colleagues.
  • If you are not able to achieve the same, your best efforts notwithstanding, perhaps it is better to construct newer friendships and a social life outside work.
  • At the end of the day, you come to your workplace to achieve professional success, earn well, and establish security. If these factors are being fulfilled, you can behave at your professional best at work, and form new and better acquaintances outside, with whom you can enjoy and have a healthy social life.

It is essential to understand that ostracism can have a serious effects on your psychological well-being. Nothing is more important than your health, happiness, and dignity. Deal with this problem courageously and amicably.

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