What is exclusion?
Exclusion is the act of preventing or restricting a person or group of people from participation, consideration or inclusion. Exclusion has also been described as the denial of rights, resources and opportunities that would normally be available to members of different groups in society. This term comes from the latin word “excludere” which means to shut. Exclusion occurs in a variety of settings, from healthcare to housing. It even occurs in the workplace.
Why do people exclude others at work?
In psychology, social identity theory attempts to explain why different individuals identify with different groups and how this affects their behaviour. The in-group is considered as those who align with your values, interests and beliefs while the out-group are those who do not. Examples include gender, religious or political beliefs, race, ethnicity, and age. In the workplace, people tend to like people like themselves (also known as homophily) and this can also create in-groups and out-groups. Within a work-group of friends, they may exclude others who they consider to be out-group members and this can be unconscious or a lack of awareness of how their behaviour can exclude others in the workplace. This makes exclusion at work challenging to deal with since it can sometimes be ambiguous or unclear as to whether it was done on purpose or not. Trying to decipher whether an act of exclusion was purposeful or not can cause stress and anxiety.
There are a number of reasons why people might exclude others at work.
To avoid conflict
They feel they cannot connect interpersonally with a colleague because they perceive their beliefs to be too different.
Lack of awareness of how their behaviour can exclude others in the workplace
What does exclusion look like at work?
Exclusion at work in a social setting can look like not being invited to an in-person lunch, or perhaps a conversation stops when you try to participate. Maybe you are not being included on email threads or you are left out of an invitation to grab coffee or a weekend work trip with colleagues. Exclusion can even occur in meetings if suggestions you make are overlooked or ignored.
How do you deal with a co-worker who excludes you?
The first step to dealing with a co-worker who excludes you is firstly to challenge any assumptions that might make you think that the exclusion is your fault or that you are to blame for what you’ve experienced. Reflect on how you’ve perceived the act of exclusion and if it falls outside the norms in your workplace. For example, if you never expected to be invited to a weekend work trip, you wouldn’t feel left out on purpose if the trip goes ahead without you.
The next thing to think about is who else might have been excluded as perhaps there was an intentional reason for it. Maybe, a manager is due to have separate meetings with each person on your team and so everyone else was also left out of an email thread or meeting invite.
Talk to your trusted colleagues for social support about what you’re experiencing. They may be able to validate what you’ve experienced, but if they can’t, having more positive social interactions will help you feel more included at work.
If you are persistently being excluded, think about recording these incidences so that you can take action with a record of the exclusion, either by talking directly to the person who is making you feel excluded or others if you’re in need of support. If this doesn’t help, you could consider expanding your network so that you can by-pass the difficult person or people in the future.
Feeling excluded can be isolating, but there are steps you can take if you or someone you know is experiencing exclusion in the workplace. Remember that it is not always a conscious decision to exclude others. Following a few simple steps can equip you with the tools you need to tackle workplace exclusion and ultimately feel more included and connected at work.