Workplace Ostracism

by Deborah Bell

As Vice President, Consulting, Deborah conducts assessments, manages consulting projects, and designs and delivers custom solutions. She enjoys building relationships with her clients and uncovering their needs so she can serve as a trusted adviser and business partner.

Workplace Ostracism is defined as the extent to which an individual perceives that they are ignored or excluded by others at work, and/or when others fail to take actions to engage them when it is socially appropriate to do so. Source

The below graphic shows some of the results from a 2020 meta-analysis that studied the antecedents and outcomes of ostracism from the victim’s perspective. In this article, we offer practical implications and actions you can take to try to stop workplace ostracism. 

Implications and Recommendations

Focusing on your Leaders should have the greatest impact.

The study found that people who work for supervisors who take action to ensure that all followers feel a part of the group are less likely to feel ostracized.  And, not surprisingly, people who work for supervisors that engage in abusive or exclusive behaviors are more likely to feel ostracized.  So knowing your leaders and how they are behaving is critical to stopping workplace ostracism.

There are many ways to evaluate leaders, both pre- and post-hire to identify role models and weed out perpetrators.  Objective measures of leadership style, personality traits associated with bad behavior, structured interview questions, 360-degree feedback, skip-level one-on-one, culture surveys, and exit and stay interviews can all serve as inputs into decisions about who to hire, promote, and exit from the organization.  

Some people are more vulnerable to feeling (and being) ostracized.  Administering a Big 5 personality survey will help you to identify who is at risk.

People high on AGREEABLENESS are less likely to engage in conflicts at work that could lead them to be (and, subsequently, feel) ostracized.  Most people do not enjoy being around a disagreeable person, so they tend to be left out. 

  • Think carefully about hiring people who are low on agreeableness, as this personality domain is predictive of many other negative outcomes, including the creation of toxic cultures.
  • Provide soft skills training, feedback, and coaching to people who are naturally low on agreeableness so they can learn to act in ways that are less likely to result in them being ostracized.

People high on EMOTIONAL STEADINESS are less likely to experience anger and frustration at work that could cause them to be ostracized.  They also are less likely to misconstrue people’s behavior and think that they are being ostracized when they aren’t.

  • Have a robust employee wellness program that is presented during onboarding in a normalizing and uplifting manner.  

  • Meet with team members regularly to gauge stress levels and ascertain perceptions of ostracism (and investigate, and take action, if verified).

People high on EXTRAVERSION value the rewards that come from relationships, so they are less likely to engage in behaviors at work that could lead them to be (and, subsequently, feel) ostracized.

  • This does not mean that introverts deserve to be ostracized! It just means that they are less likely to be focused on behaving in ways that could help them to gain social acceptance.  Help to facilitate networking when onboarding and balance giving them space with encouraging engagement with others.

People high on Conscientiousness are hardworking and duty-focused, so they are less likely to engage in behaviors that disrupt the workflow and, subsequently, cause the person to be (and feel) ostracized.

  • Think carefully about hiring people who are low on conscientiousness, as this personality domain is predictive of many important outcomes, including overall job performance.  Giving people low on conscientiousness work that they enjoy, clarifying responsibilities and expectations, and holding them accountable may help them to engage in more productive (and less counterproductive) work behaviors. 

Employee resource groups, a best friend at work, or supportive coworkers can moderate negative outcomes to some degree.

While the effect of these antecedents was significant, it was relatively small.  Especially when the more powerful antecedents are at play (i.e., ostracizing supervisor, personality traits that make the person vulnerable), the buffering effects may be minimal. 

In conclusion, taking action related to all 3 antecedents should help your organization foster a positive culture in which people are less likely to be and feel ostracized. 


Howard, M. C., Cogswell, J. E., & Smith, M. B. (2020). The antecedents and outcomes of workplace ostracism: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(6), 577–596. 

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