Pain Of Ostracization: 5 Things To Know About Being Excluded At Work

pain of ostracization

Kenny (2019), in her new book Whistleblowing: Toward a New Theory, published by Harvard University Press, found that employees who value justice and fairness over loyalty and conformity tend to be the ones who report abuse and violations of laws and ethics.

Whistleblowing, according to Alford’s seminal work, has significant consequences, including retaliatory isolation in the form of being left out of meetings, cut off from technology, and physically isolated. Though a whistleblower is often celebrated in the larger community for her courage, her bravery may be punished at work, as the bully paints her as a deviant and creates chaos to deflect the issues she called out.

Miceli, Near, Rehg, and van Scotter found ostracizing bold voices also serve as a warning to other employees who may seek transparency in decision making and justice for wrongdoing. The impact of isolation on whistleblowers is significant, causing previously healthy people to experience depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance, and fear.

#5. What Tools Are Available To Help Targets Cope With Ostracization?

Work often provides a circle of social support that extends past the office walls. When a workplace bully ostracizes a target and pressures others to join in on the exclusion, the target may become flooded with feelings of rejection. To regain footing and find soothing and support, research shows there are several places to turn to for comfort.

Employees who maintain full lives outside of the office and nurture relationships across diverse friend groups form a type of buffer against the impact of ostracization. Family members and groups formed around activities such as hobbies, exercising, and religious formation help to make targets feel less isolated. When victims’ social circles at work cut them out, their outside networks help them to meet their fundamental needs.

Molet, Macquet, Lefebvre, and Williams found mindfulness practice to be a useful strategy for mitigating the pain of ostracization. Through breathing exercises, targets learn how to focus on the now instead of ruminating on the painful feelings of being excluded at work.

Derrick, Gabriel, and Hugenberg suggest social surrogates, or symbolic bonds that provide a psychological rather than physical connection, can also help to lessen the pain of ostracization. Social surrogates fall into one of three categories.

There is the Parasocial, in which we form a one-way connection to people we do not actually know but who bring us happiness, like watching a favorite actress in a movie or enjoying a concert by a beloved musician.

Next, there is the Social World, in which we find escape and calm by transporting to another universe through books and television, such as, situating ourselves in C.S. Lewis’s Narnia.

Lastly, there are Reminders of Others, where we use pictures, home videos, mementos, and letters to connect to the people we love and who love us back.

Social surrogates have also been shown to benefit trauma victims, who seek comfort from activities and rituals, instead of opening themselves up to reciprocal human relationships that may put them at risk for re-traumatization.

Though some assume leaning on social surrogates is a sign of maladaptation and deficiency in personality, recent research indicates that social surrogates are correlated with the development of empathy, self-esteem, and other prosocial characteristics of healthy human development.

Related: Toxic Leaders: The Toxic Trinity That Takes Leaders Down

In summary, ostracization hurts, spreads, and has a long-lasting impact on the victim. Exclusionary practices may be used to enforce toxic group norms and discourage employees from speaking out against ethical violations and injustices. Ostracization, at its core, strips individuals of their fundamental needs of belonging, self-esteem, control, and a search for a meaningful existence. Work shouldn’t be painful.

Copyright (2020). Dorothy Courtney Suskind, Ph.D.

If you want to get in touch with Dorothy Suskind, you can drop her a mail at

Written By Dorothy Suskind
Originally Appeared In Psychology Today


Alford, C. F. (2001). Whistleblowers: Broken lives and organizational power. New York: Cornell University Press.

Cialdini, R. B. (2005). Basic social influence is underestimated. Psychological Inquiry, 16(4), 158–161.

Derrick, J. L., Gabriel, S., & Hugenberg, K. (2009). Social surrogacy: How favored television programs provide the experience of belonging. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 45, 352–362.

Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? an fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302(5643), 290–292.

Gabriel, S., Read, J. P., Young, A. F., Bachrach, R. L., & Troisi, J. D. (2017). Social surrogate use in those exposed to trauma: I get by with a little help from my (fictional) friends. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 36(1), 41–63.

Kenny, K. (2019). Whistleblowing: Toward a new theory. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Miceli, M. P., Near, J. P., Rehg, M. T., & van Scotter, J. R. (2012). Predicting employee reactions to perceived organizational wrongdoing: Demoralization, justice, proactive personality, and whistle-blowing. Human Relations, 65(8), 923–954.

Molet, M., Macquet, B., Lefebvre, O., & Williams, K. D. (2013). A focused attention intervention for coping with ostracism. Consciousness & Cognition, 22(4).

Parks, C. D., & Stone, A. B. (2010). The desire to expel unselfish members from the group. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 99(2), 303–310.

Sapolsky, R. M. (2004). Why zebras don't get ulcers. New York: Times Books.

Williams, K. D., Cheung, C. K. T., & Choi, W. (2000). CyberOstracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748-762.

Williams, K. D., & Jarvis, B. (2006). Cyberball: a program for use in research on interpersonal ostracism and acceptance. Behavior Research Methods, 38(1).

Williams, K.D. (2009). Ostracism: A temporal need-threat model. In Zadro, L., & Williams, K. D., & Nida, S. A. (2011). Ostracism: Consequences and coping. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 20(2), 71–75.

Williams, K. D., & Nida, S. A. (Eds.). (2017). Ostracism, exclusion, and rejection (First, Series Frontiers of social psychology). New York: Routledge.

pain of ostracization pin
Pain Of Ostracization: 5 Things To Know About Being Excluded At Work
Pages: 1 2

Dorothy Suskind Ph.D.

Dorothy Suskind, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Education and Counseling Department at Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia. Over the last two decades, she has taught in elementary schools, middle schools, prisons and served as a reading specialist and middle school principal. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Virginia and has published over twenty research articles and presented at over forty conferences across the country as well as in Australia and South Africa. Her research interests include workplace bullying, writing as a tool for empowerment, critical literacy, social justice, creativity, and innovation. Dr. Suskind completed the Workplace Bullying University training with Dr. Gary Namie, co-founder of the Workplace Bullying Institute and foremost expert in the United States on workplace abuse.View Author posts