Service & Experience with J. N. Halm: Ostracised!


…When the internal customer feels estranged

No man is an island. Or rather, no man is meant to be an island. Belongingness is ingrained in our DNA. As a matter of fact, belongingness and social connectedness are right there on the third level of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In other words, we are not going to feel fulfilled in life, if after sorting out all the issues of survival and safety, we are still unable to form meaningful relationships with other human being.

People must necessarily deal with others, connect with others in one way or another, to achieve whatever individual goals they set. We might be able to go it alone, but we will struggle. And it will not be any fun going solo in life. Like the old African Proverb goes, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

We are created to be there for each other—wherever we find ourselves. At home. In the community. Wherever, whenever and however we congregate, it is expected that we rely on each other to survive and to thrive. Relying on one another to do something worthwhile is very much a part of the human existence.

The need to belong is very important at the workplace, where individuals are expected to work together to achieve a common goal. It is common knowledge that those who insist on being, and remaining, islands amidst their colleagues tend to not last long in that workplace. Individuals who do not come along with the group end up being cast out of the group.

Workplace ostracism is what happens when individuals become aware that they are being shunned or excluded from activities of the groups they find themselves in. It has been claimed that workplace ostracism is quite prevalent around many workplaces around the world. It is not a topic that is very popular either in the Boardroom or even on the corridors of any organisation.

The reason could be that it is quite an uncomfortable topic to handle. It is not comfortable for those who get ostracised, i.e. the victims. Neither is it a comfortable topic for those who do the ostracising, i.e. the perpetrators. However, due to its detrimental outcomes, it is important that workplace ostracism is discussed more. It helps no one to sweep this very sensitive topic under the carpet. It is happening right now and so we cannot play ostrich with it.

One of the effects of workplace ostracism is that it mostly results in the depression of the ostracized. Individuals know that they come to work to work with others. It is therefore quite depressing to come to work knowing that you are not wanted there. Nothing can be more depressing. It is therefore not surprising that the ostracised would rather be in any other place than their workplace. As a matter of fact, the ostracised dread coming to work in the morning.

Even in situations where things do not get into full-blown depression, there is always tension on the job between colleagues when there is workplace ostracism.  There is no way the ostracised will be on good terms with those who are trying to get them out of the group. How is the individual who feels unwanted by the group going to get along with those same people? If that individual needs the help of someone within that group, how is the ostracised going to approach the one for help?

Emotional exhaustion is another of the more serious effects of workplace ostracism. It drains an individual emotionally to have to deal with people who would rather not have anything to do with the one. The ostracised goes home overly tired from dealing with all the drama in the office. Depending the one’s psychological constitution, the one can easily become depressed or the one can hold it all in, until such a time that the individual can no longer hold it in. We have seen the devastating and deadly consequences of such actions in workplaces in the past.

In the end, with all that is going on in the work life of the individual, it is no wonder that many people decide that the best thing to do will be to leave the job. There are many people working in organisations where they have already tendered in their resignations, albeit only in their minds. Turnover intention is a common symptom of workplace ostracism. Many employees go to work every single day wishing they were working in some other organisations.

From the preceding discussion, one can clearly see that the issue of ostracism has effect not only on the quality of interactions within the organisation. Ostracism within the organisation can and do eventually affect the quality of service rendered to customers. Whenever there is tension within a company, it is only a matter of time before the quality of interactions with customers begin to suffer. No matter how well hidden the internal challenges are, if they are not resolved, they would still eventually show. In the end, it is the poor customer who will suffer.

It is true that we cannot give what we do not have. Frustrated, ostracised employees, especially those whose jobs involve dealing with customers on a daily basis, cannot give customers exciting experiences. They might do their best but it will not be their best. Their smiles would be forced, rather than come from a place of genuineness. The ostracised front line employee cannot exude genuine warmth because the one has none to give.

If there is one single reason why an organisation should do something about the issue of workplace ostracism, it has to be because of the effect ostracism has on the customer’s experience. Every business leader, manager and supervisor must be interested in fostering an atmosphere of togetherness in the workplace. Therefore, something as potentially destructive as workplace ostracism cannot be allowed to just fester.

By design, it seems the need for belongingness is one way by which we get to curb the tendency for workplace ostracism. When people do not want to be left out of what the group is doing, they are forced to avoid behaviours that might lead to ostracism. Colleagues would be very careful as to what they say or do, just so that they do not become alienated from the group. In this sense, at least, workplace ostracism, or rather, the fear of workplace ostracism can have one positive outcome. If workplace ostracism can get an individual to stop certain negative behaviours, then we can say workplace ostracism can result in some good.

A study published in the January 2021 edition of Service Industries Journal, found that there were certain mediating factors when it came to the influence of the need to belong and workplace ostracism. Titled “The Need to Belong: How to Reduce Workplace Ostracism,” the study agreed that the need to belong makes employees less likely to exhibit organisational deviance, thereby reducing the degree of workplace ostracism that they experience. Organisational deviance refers to any unethical behaviour that challenges the norms of the organisation and that may cause harm to the organisation.

The same study also claimed that the effectiveness with which employees carry out their “formally-prescribed job responsibilities” also plays a role in whether individuals get accepted as part of the larger group. When people do their jobs and do them well, they get accepted into the group, and this reduces workplace ostracism. This makes sense because every organisation is set up to achieve certain results and therefore those who play their part in helping the organisations achieve those objectives will be super stars of the workplace. People would normally rather gravitate towards these individuals, thus reducing the incidence of workplace ostracism.

If there is a clear takeaway from the above-referred study, it has to be the fact that there are two ways by which workplace ostracism can be curbed—firstly, reducing wrong behaviour and secondly, doing one’s job right. What the study claimed, which one finds interesting, is that doing the wrong thing is a surer way to get ostracised than not doing one’s job well. This is very important finding, if you ask me. Managers and supervisors alike must know and use this knowledge in managing those they work with. Employees must know that wrong behaviour has consequences and some of these consequences can be quite drastic for the ostracised individual.

Another of the causes of workplace ostracism is the personality of employees. When an individual carries an air of superiority around the office, looking down on those around, it is not too difficult to see why colleagues would not want not to associate with the one. Also those with negative personalities, who do not see any good around them, also end up getting ostracised by colleagues. People would normally shun those with toxic attitudes.

Workplace ostracism is one of those hidden cankers that is unseen but still very potent in its ability to cause damage to the very fabric of any organisation. It is not as loud as employees not dressing appropriately. Neither is it as blatant as colleagues arguing or fighting with each other in the full view of customers. Workplace ostracism is nevertheless still very dangerous—and so long as it affects the experience of customers, it is something that the organisation has to do something about.

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