Exclusion in the workplace is when some employees are ostracised from participating in work or social activities. As explained in my previous blog, this stealthy form of bullying can take many forms, for example, colleagues being left out of meetings, missed off the team WhatsApp chat or not invited to after work drinks.

This social exclusion or ostracism can be malicious but it may also be unintentional. The person behind the excluding could be falling into the trap of “affinity bias” (being drawn to people similar to themselves), have a communication style that clashes with a colleague or simply have different expectations of the working relationship.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, it can be psychologically damaging for those who experience it and – if not successfully identified and dealt with – lead to increased employee turnover.

Research shows that such isolation is worryingly common; 71% of professionals have experienced some degree of exclusion, compared to 49% that have experienced harassment.

So, here are some top tips on how to stop exclusion running rife through your teams:

  1. Open communication

Foster a culture where everyone can feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, ideas and experiences. This doesn’t have to be strictly related to work; colleagues could be encouraged to talk about events in their personal lives if they’d like to.

This could be facilitated through regular whole team catch-up meetings, in-person or virtually if working from home, which would provide opportunities to discuss work issues as well as for everyone to get to know each other and understand one another’s working styles.

Nurturing this level of psychological safety will improve collaboration, and therefore push creativity and productivity too.

  1. Consider office layout

Making tweaks to your office layout can do a lot for encouraging socialising and collaboration. An open office plan and opportunities to hot desk could combat workplace cliques forming. Offering some common areas and break rooms also provide people with relaxing spaces away from their desks to enjoy a cup of tea and have a chat, get to know each other and bump into colleagues from different departments.

  1. Focus on engagement

Make a conscious effort to engage all team members in discussions around large work projects. Asking for everyone’s feedback – either in a meeting or a group email – not only makes the whole team feel valued, but is a clear sign to all of the level of collaboration you expect within the team and that everyone’s voice has the right to be heard.

  1. Build relationships

Not everyone comes to work with the intention of developing strong, ever-lasting friendships, but – considering the amount of time colleagues spend with each other – embedding mutual respect for each other is vital.

Look for opportunities to organise the occasional team lunch or after work drinks, especially if you have a newcomer to your team, to help start building those relationships.

  1. Be ready to listen

Sometimes, even with your best efforts, a colleague may feel excluded by others. While some incidents may seem like the stuff of mean-spirited playground dramas, it can bring out a strong emotional response in people which should be taken seriously. It may have also taken a lot of courage for your team member to admit they feel alienated or isolated. Be prepared to listen and discover what you can do to help.

  1. And act!

In many cases, especially if acts of exclusion have not been performed maliciously, a word with the victim and alleged perpetrator may be enough to start resolving any tensions. This can help them reach a mutual understanding of what they each want from their working relationship. However, employers should always have a conflict management strategy in place to help struggling team members find a way forward.


Do you need support with a case of bullying or exclusion at your workplace? At Tell Jane, our skilled HR practitioners can help resolve issues before they escalate and establish preventative measures to protect your business and people from the impact of toxic behaviour. Find out more by emailing hello@telljane.co.uk.

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