Who’s Responsible When Someone Feels “Left Out” At Work?

Mike Harden | | Building Relationships, Resolving Employee Problems

According to a recent feature at Forbes.com, sixty-four percent of American employees report that they have been excluded from decisions, projects, and work activities by their supervisors or management teams.*

Not surprisingly, the Ethics Resource Center (ERC) finds that this behavior is far more prevalent in organizations with a “weak” ethical culture and low levels of trust.

This figure seemed high to me. In a healthy organization, there shouldn’t be many reasons to exclude team members. However, according to the ERC, exclusion is the most common form of punishment.

You can’t help but think of a group of school kids who are ostracizing a classmate to “teach him/her a lesson” when you hear something like this. This comparison is not intended to downplay the problem, but rather call it for what it is: bullying.

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What Does Exclusion Mean?

I can relate from my CEO coaching practice that if a leader is routinely excluding certain employees from decision making, then those people are on their way out.

If you’re one of the 64 percent who feels excluded, you better take a good look at your professional situation, because it may mean that your boss is looking at you and saying, “He/she’s not an A player.”
The other possibility is that there’s been a breakdown in communication, and if that’s the case then a CEO or manager needs to step in to rectify things.

Is Exclusion Ever Necessary?

As a leader, I’ve made the choice in the past to exclude an employee from a decision. He was too emotionally tied to its outcome, and I felt he couldn’t give an unbiased look at the issue. Furthermore, he would create so much noise that he would sabotage the decision. The goal wasn’t to eliminate conflict; differing opinions are no reason to exclude someone. I depend on my A players to bring diverse points of view to me, especially if they counter mine. This person couldn’t do that, so I made the strategic choice to bench him. That’s it; no retaliation, no punishment.

The “why” is crucial. Are people excluded because they can’t be objective – or because they can? Because they’ve brought up concerns or blew the whistle on some wrongdoing or ethical misstep? Or is it something else altogether?

Employee Perception vs. Reality

The explanation for the large number of employees who are “excluded” may not be as clear-cut as the ERC statistics indicate. While exclusion does exist in many organizations, part of the problem is perception. Take the employee from my example: If I hadn’t communicated my decision to him clearly, it would have been easy for him to think, “That jerk just left me out because I don’t agree with him. He can’t handle it.” He would’ve been wrong – but nonetheless, he would have felt excluded.

Healthy Communication Can Resolve Feelings of Exclusion

Exclusion happens. As a leader, it’s your job to make sure your people understand when, why, and if they’re being excluded. There might be a host of reasons. They may not be objective. They may not be an integral part of the decision; they may not be impacted; they may not have anything substantial to contribute. These are non-exclusionary, sound reasons, but they can easily be misconstrued.

If you’re the one feeling excluded, finding out is an important first step. Packing up and looking for other opportunities may be the second.

Mike Harden

Mike Harden has developed exceptional depth and breadth of knowledge over his 40+ year career as an entrepreneur, executive, teacher, mentor, and coach. Today, as one of DC’s premier Executive Coaches, Mike helps good executives become great leaders. Find Mike on Google+

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