Employees Act Out When They Feel Left Out at Work

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According to a recent study conducted by University of Georgia Terry College of Business entitled “Cheater, cheater: Study shows what happens when employees feel excluded at work.”, employees will most definitely act out when they feel excluded. And that, my friend, is not the news you were hoping to hear. It’s bad for the work environment, it’s bad for business. Plain and simple, no good can come out of this.

A new study found that bad things occur when people feel like they are left out at work. This, in turn, determines a shift in behavior and can thus cast a shadow over your business.

Marie Mitchell, co-author of the research that was published in the Journal of Applied Psychology and professor of management at UGA has told Science Daily that scientists were already aware of how some people tend to react when they feel excluded from a group or when colleagues or business owners were mistreating or abusing them. However, this time the scientists wanted to examine this time the “What if you’re not sure?” scenario.

Feeling left out when other colleagues “forget” to invite you to lunch is pretty easy. But the main issue appears when you fail to give your colleagues the benefit of the doubt and you go ahead and falsely accuse them. When an employee feels like they are on the verge of feeling excluded from a group, they jump to the conclusion that something is wrong with their personality and that they should act before it’s too late. They tend to do this so that they demonstrate to the group the value they bring to the table.

To put it in layman’s terms: When a colleague is overlooked, he or she will go out of her way to undermine all colleagues, cut corners to advance in the work group and lie straight to their faces. Thus, the work culture and environment becomes toxic, while distrust is in the back of everyone’s mind.

To put the idea to the test, Mitchell and her co-authors decided to run an experiment. Participants undertook personality tests, then they were divided into groups of four and asked to have conversations with each other for 15 minutes. Next, they were told they would have to take two more tests that would be scored against another group.

After all four members took the first test they were told the results. However, the group had to vote the three members out of the four to determine which subjects would then take part in the second test. Researches then asked the participants to write down who that person should do. Afterwards, the three remaining participants had to complete a computer task. The result would also contain an update whether they were fortunate enough to advance to the next test.

Now, the participants were primed to feel excluded so the researchers had them start to unscramble a set of anagrams or jumbled up letters that form common everyday words. The subjects were asked to record how many they solved. There was only one problem: the anagrams couldn’t be solved, so all participants who said they solved one or many were lying.

The result of priming was that a lot of people cheated. The general human tendency when a person is faced with these kinds of situations was to misreport what they did. However, the subjects that presented a high-need for social approval and that were part of the excluded group were more likely to cheat, Mitchell told Science Daily.

The takeaways for a manager are these: if one of your employees does not fit in, try to find ways in which that person could be included in the group. Moreover, encourage the team to show a more inclusive attitude and reassure the frustrated employee not to take everything so personally. In some cases, people really don’t really have any time to spare. However, while some may perceive this as a way of blowing you off, this is not the case. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Last but not least, encourage employees to be themselves. You will notice a change in a matter of days. While they will start to feel better about themselves, others will also begin to appreciate them for being honest with them. Embracing a co-worker’s quirks is a sure-fire way of sending out vibes that translate into a sense of inclusion.

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