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What to Do When You Feel Excluded at Work

Building belonging is an organizational responsibility but there are some things in your control.

Brief Summary

We all have a basic need to feel seen, welcome, and safe, in other words, as a sense of belonging. When that isn’t present, you experience workplace ostracism: a pattern of being ignored, disregarded, or excluded. Those who ostracize you are sometimes unaware and, at other times, may do it as a misguided way of avoiding conflict or discomfort. Unintentional ostracism is when colleagues don't intentionally ostracize you, but you still feel excluded (eg when they don't realize they've formed social groups and don’t notice who has been left out). Workplace exclusion can happen because of the affinity bias, different communication styles that clashes with yours, or different expectations for workplace relationships. The sense of not belonging is widespread, yet few people openly express that feeling. Research indicates that 71% of professionals experience some degree of exclusion or social isolation and it impacts their level of psychological safety and promotes covering.

Building a sense of belonging in the workplace is generally an organizational responsibility, not an individual one. Yet, if you want to feel like you belong at work, there are some things in your control.


Exclusion is prevalent among members of minority groups. Emotional tax is defined as the combination of feeling different at work because of gender, race/ ethnicity, or other identities and the associated implications on thriving at work. For example, 58% of Asian, Black and Latin employees are on “guard” (consciously preparing to deal with potential bias or discrimination).

Experiences of judgment or ostracism can leave you covering or withdrawing (cognitively, physically, emotionally) which can even reduce your effectiveness at work. Because people typically get promoted through referrals and informal networks,  social exclusion has a real, negative impact. But forcing your way into an existing group can leave you more alienated than before.


While it is the organization’s responsibility to build belonging for employees, as an individual, you can:

1. Practice self-acceptance: challenge any assumptions that might lead you to blame yourself for the situation.

2. Assume positive intent: you’ll be less likely to be triggered by what others say/do, to villainize others, or isolate yourself/build walls;

3. Be vulnerable and patient: it takes effort and courage to put yourself out there. Seek out activities/groups with common interests and build connection with others; it takes time to build trusting relationships, gain acceptance, and feel connected.

4. Find an Ally: start small, build trust with one person at a time, and share authentically.

dei progress

Proposed Actions

  • Look for a colleague worthy of trust as a friend or an ally (research suggests it only takes one co-worker to eliminate feelings of loneliness).
  • Talk to others who have been left out to learn how they dealt with it.
  • Join an ERG. This should not become a silo or echo chamber but provide collective confidence to raise majority group awareness and commitment to addressing minority group challenges.
  • Process your emotions before responding: knowing that ostracism can be unintentional may temper some of the stronger negative feelings.
  • Share your experiences and feelings with trusted colleagues or HR. Use “I” statements to keep finger-pointing and assumptions out of the conversation. Build collaborate solutions.
  • Find an outlet. Join a group, give back to a cause, make more time for your hobbies or discover new ones. Find a community: maintain and nurture social support networks outside work
  • Plan your exit strategy. If all else fails and the environment is toxic, know you can leave.

Valued Guidance

Implementation Plan

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