The impact of exclusion

Exclusion is a subtle but powerful form of workplace bullying that can leave employees feeling like they don’t belong and ultimately heading towards the exit.

While exclusion can take many forms in the workplace, it can be tricky for employers to identify as it often arrives from an accumulation of many small incidents over a long period of time.

Despite its stealthy nature, it’s vital that leaders put in place strategies to prevent and deal effectively with incidents when they arise. In the US, it’s estimated that companies lose as much as $13 billion per year to the repercussions of bullying which erodes morale, engagement and productivity.

What does exclusion look like?

Have you noticed colleagues who invite certain team members to join meetings but not others? Have you been missed off important emails about a project so was denied the opportunity to provide your input? Have you ever felt left out of the office chit chat or after work drinks?

That’s exclusion. It may seem akin to the mean-spirited behaviour seen in playgrounds, but persistent incidents of social ostracism, however trivial, can have a profound effect on an individual at any age.

Even while working from home, when everyone is physically separated from each other anyway, exclusion – like many forms of bullying – can still find a home online. People may find themselves left out of online office chat rooms and, with communication almost solely by email, it’s too easy for colleagues to pick and choose who receives what information about what projects.

Social media (the 21st century clubhouse) is also an effective platform for exclusion. Is there a colleague who has “friended” everyone in the office online except for you?

What is the impact of exclusion?

If an employee feels like they’re not respected or trusted by their peers, it can take a significant emotional toll. It can lead to them not feeling comfortable to contribute or voice their opinions. They may even withdraw from work events resulting in them feeling more isolated.

If a person believes their ethnicity or background may be the route of the exclusion, they could resort to code-switching – an exhausting and damaging tactic whereby a person, consciously or unconsciously, down plays parts of their true self in an attempt to better fit into their surroundings.

What this all leads to is poor morale, decreased performance, lost productivity and a loss of respect for managers and leaders, which is ultimately a one-way ticket to frequent absenteeism and resignations.

According to a survey, Generation Xers are more likely to view exclusion as a bullying trait than Millennials, showing that the next generation of workers will not stand for such behaviour and will have the confidence to call it out, perhaps publicly!

It is therefore in an employer’s interest to promote a safe and fair environment where people can work together and feel free to be themselves.

What can I do?

Like many victims of bullying, it may not be easy for a team member to admit they’re feeling alienated or isolated. As a manager, keep an eye out for visible signs of stress and pay attention to workplace interactions and relationships.

In some cases, a private word with the victim and the alleged perpetrator may be enough to start resolving any tensions. However, employers should always have a conflict management strategy in place to help struggling team members find a way forward.

But, as with all things, prevention is better than cure and efforts should be made to foster an inclusive workplace culture to stop exclusion running rife in the first place.

A comprehensive bullying and harassment policy, which includes social exclusion, is a good first step. This policy should be backed up with training for all employees to clearly outline what constitutes and does not constitute acceptable behaviour, the channels people can use to raise complaints about bullying and the likely sanctions for anyone found stepping over the line.


Need support with a case of bullying and exclusion? At Tell Jane, our highly-experienced HR practitioners can help resolve issues before they escalate, conduct independent investigations and establish preventative methods to protect your business and people from the impact of future toxic behaviour. Find out more by emailing me at


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