Workplace Ostracism: More Distressing than Harassment

Author Name(s): Dr. Ruchi Sao, Dr. Kanak Wadhwani
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The current study is a qualitative one which uses focus group discussions (FGD) and interviews to understand the existence and instances of workplace ostracism. Literature review including research papers and articles written by HR practitioners has been done. The idea was to understand the various factors that affect the occurrence of ostracism at the workplace. Workplace ostracism is a process of ostracizing or excluding someone at the workplace on any ground. The research paper presents a qualitative study which uses Focus Group Discussions (FGD) and interviews. The factors causing workplace ostracism are identified through research which are colleagues, self, organization culture, leader and work environment. A questionnaire has been made on the basis of the factors identified and is validated. This questionnaire can be used to identify the factors which contribute towards workplace ostracism. 29 statements have been identified which makes an attempt to identify the existence or nonexistence of workplace ostracism at the workplace. It is developed with the objective to help the organizations to conduct workplace ostracism studies across the employees.

Keywords: Culture, Social Exclusion, Workplace Ostracism


If a person does not get a response when he enters a room of people or people take time to reply can be fine for an individual. However, if the same person is treated as if he does not exist would be more killing and distressing for the individual. Sometimes, it is not the physical pain that breaks you down but the mental agony in the form of social exclusion that breaks you down. There are umpteen examples of presence of ostracism at workplace such as not even considering opinion of juniors or some employees, stop communication when a person enters the room, passing remarks in an arrogant way on purpose to demean a person, going beyond bullying to make the other person feel bad. Not many of us are with a perfect workplace environment. Ostracism is not practiced but is still faced by many junior and middle level employees in all sectors of business. There are various terms used synonymously with ostracism such as bullying, harassment and sometimes a reason of conflict. Workplace ostracism is defined by Robinson as the degree with which an individual or group omits another organizational member from engaging in socially appropriate actions. Types of behavior that leads to ostracism range from minor exclusionary tactics such as curt responses to more serious instances, with the most serious form of ostracism involving death (Gruter, Et al 1986).


The present study identifies the common factors causing workplace ostracism. The findings are arrived at through FGD’s and interviews of various employees working across the hierarchy in PSU sector. The study will contribute to the field of literature in the area of workplace ostracism in PSU sector in India. In practice, the companies can use the questionnaire developed to remove barriers within the workplace by addressing the issues on ostracism. The statements can be used with demographic data to check the level of workplace ostracism in any organization. The occurrence of workplace ostracism leads to fall in efficiency of the employee and low sense of belongingness. Ostracized employees has high probability of leaving the organization or staying and remain emotionally and mentally absent from work. The employee commitment level would also go down which can be detrimental for the organization at large. Workplace ostracism may turn out to be more stressing as compared to harassment. Thus, it is important for the leaders to create a working environment which is conducive and friendly for all the employees. The organizations should have an open communication system where the employees can speak their heart. There should be regular coaching and mentoring sessions which help the employees to speak up.

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