CLEMSON — Being blackballed by fellow employees doesn’t mean a person can’t remain productive in the workplace — if they feel their employer values them, according to researchers at Clemson University.

Kristin Scott

Kristin Scott

The study, conducted by management researchers in Clemson’s business school — Kristin Scott, Tom Zagenczyk and Russell Purvis — also found that talking to family and friends about being rejected by co-workers can make matters worse for the shunned employee.

Studies show a little less than a third of people in a given workplace have been affected by exclusion, and they are rejected for a variety of reasons.

Scott said in some instances, the excluded co-worker isn’t considered a team player, or is seen as someone who upsets the balance or harmony of the group. Other reasons include them being viewed as poor performers, non-contributors or social misfits.

“The excluded employee may not like being perceived as an outcast, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be productive in their jobs,” Scott said. “If the employee believes their employer treats them respectfully and cares about their opinion one can continue to be a good performer. Conversely, if an excluded person doesn’t perceive their employer as valuing them, there’s a tendency to take the low road, which can lead to a toxic work environment.”

Some of the low-road approaches jilted employees resort to range from gossip, withholding information and condescending behavior to more threatening actions, such as sabotage or stealing work ideas, and sometimes violence.

“It’s the hurtful behavior, or worse, that adds to stress levels, damages self-esteem and can lead to depression” Scott said.

The researchers also found that family and friends are not good outlets for finding solace about workplace problems.

“In non-work situations (e.g., illness, divorce, child rearing), social support from friends and family can sometimes be helpful, but in workplace-related instances, it can make matters worse,” Scott added. “Seeking support from friends and family is a way of ruminating about it, but a family member can’t fix the problem.”

Researchers concluded one of the best ways for an organization to keep an excluded employee on a solid performance track is to show them they are valued as workers and individuals.

“If the organization shows it values the employee’s contributions and acknowledges their accomplishments, it will go a long way toward keeping them from dropping the ball when it comes to helping the organization. Organizations may not always be able to control workers excluding one another but they can foster an overarching culture of support and gratitude,” Scott said.

Joining Clemson faculty in the research were Michaela Schippers, Erasmus University, Rotterdam, Netherlands; and Kevin Cruz, University of Texas-El Paso.

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