Office Culture

What to do when you feel left out of the office ‘tribe’

Feeling left out in the office is no fun.  Being left off of emails and not told about meetings, can make you feel paranoid and out of the loop sometimes.

An article in the Harvard Business Review called “What to Do When a Colleague Excludes You” touches on the effects of being ostracized at work and provides advice on how to get through painful periods caused by it.

Being left out of office conversations causes us physical pain

Ostracism can take a toll on your well-being.

A metastudy on “negative attention” in the office made a clear distinction between “ostracism” and “harassment,” but shed light on a confusing office dynamic: while quiet ostracism is more painful, colleagues tend to believe that belittling someone openly is the worst you can do to them.

“To some, workplace ostracism may intuitively be perceived as a more mundane form of mistreatment than harassment. Indeed, on the surface, harassing behaviors that directly demean, insult, belittle, or humiliate someone seem particularly more belligerent and threatening than behaviors that “simply” deny a person social connection and attention,” the study says.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take this treatment seriously.

The same study found that, “contrary to lay perceptions of ostracism as relatively harmless, our studies found that ostracism, compared with harassment, is more strongly related to negative outcomes for employees.”

According to a write-up of the study by The University of British Columbia, that means that being neglected in the office is “worse for physical and mental well-being than harassment or bullying.”

So who you’re surrounded by can have a huge impact on how you feel.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been going on for almost 80 years, and has shown that having a strong community helps longevity. Robert Waldinger, director of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Gazette about the importance of having healthy connections with others.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health…Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation,” Waldinger told the Harvard Gazette.

Office “tribes”

Co-workers workers often find themselves in a social group like a tribe.

Dave Logan, Ph.D and Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D, authors of Tribal Leadership: Leveraging Natural Groups to Build a Thriving Organization (along with John King) told Gallup about this concept in a 2008 interview.

Dr. Logan defined a tribe as a group “usually composed of 20 to 150 people, but what marks it is that it forms naturally.”

But they’re not always a bad thing— Dr. Fischer-Wright said that “a lot of positive outcomes are associated with tribes.”

Office tribes also last, even years after all the participants work elsewhere. “Tribes form all the time. What makes workplace tribes a little different is their staying power. Even if you leave a company, you’ll probably keep in touch with some of the people you worked with,” Dr. Logan told Gallup.

So feeling out of place with a large group of those you work with can be harrowing.

What to do

There are steps you can take to feel better if you think you’re being purposely left out in the office.

The authors of the Harvard Business Review article make some recommendations for people who think they are in this position, including: that they should “challenge any assumptions” that could make them think they are “to blame,” to “seek social support,” and to “document what’s happening.”

Taking action could also help.

In an article in The Muse, Lynze Wardle Lenio writes that if you have FOMO, or “fear of missing out” at work, that you should “be honest” about the skills you bring to the table and “your behavior,” to ”be engaged,” (get to know your co-workers), and “be persistent” by talking with your manager if you feel like you’re “being passed over for workplace opportunities,” among other tips.

Feeling ignored at work isn’t easy, but you can overcome it.