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The Threat of Ostracism in Hybrid Working

Updated: Aug 23, 2023

No matter how introverted some of us think we are or how much we enjoy solitude, evolutionary psychologists argue that we all are fundamentally social creatures. That we depend on one another, forming bonds and relationships to preserve and advance our species. Whether you agree or not with this stance, we can safely say that social circles are certainly important to most people - and there is something about being ostracised that is deeply unsettling when it happens to us. It causes psychological damage, resulting in pain that often lasts much longer than that of a physical injury.

In work, we have colleagues in a team, forming a social circle. A few months ago, when almost all of us worked remotely, we were still somewhat united in working in isolation. We were going through the same experience. Now, in a new hybrid working world, we occupy one of two primary and distinct domains; office working or remote working. As human beings, it takes very little for us to identify with one group (say, the ‘remote workers’) and therefore dissociate with other groups we don’t feel part of (say, the ‘office workers’). This inevitably holds consequences for team cohesion and connections.

We’re already seeing this in meetings; while some gather in-person around a table and engage in natural conversation, others tune in via videocalls. And while discussions flow among those around the table, people on calls have reportedly found it more difficult to get involved, resulting in feeling absent and excluded. Repeated episodes like this may eventually spur deeper disengagement with the team and even ostracism from colleagues, be it intentional or not. When ostracised, employees can feel that they no longer belong with that team or with their organisation and usually find themselves in a state that empowers them to take action.

Interestingly, recent research has identified an important factor at play which can determine the subsequent action an employee may take if they feel ostracised. If employees feel that they have value, but that value isn’t being recognised internally or they feel at the cusp of being ostracised, these employees may be more likely to seek opportunities in other organisations. This means that, for organisations, providing resources to employees for their own personal development may not be enough anymore – equal resourcing is needed to ensure those employees remain connected with their colleagues.

In the midst of this transition and assimilation to hybrid working, it’s critical to be aware of the team and how members function together. However, engagement from everyone is important; it’s not just leaders who have the responsibility to keep employees connected. Employee autonomy for their own development has jumped to a new height, and so has their responsibility to preserve team cohesion and connectedness. Everyone now has a duty to ensure that development goes hand-in-hand with safeguarding team dynamics; this is the fundamental condition to keep the threat of employee ostracism at bay.



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