The High Cost of Workplace Ostracism

Topic(s): burnout, Counter-Productive Work Behavior, stress, work-family balance
Publication: Journal of Applied Psychology (2020)
Article: The Cost of Being Ignored: Emotional Exhaustion in the Work and Family Domains
Authors: M.J. Thompson, D.S. Carlson, K.M. Kacmar, R.M. Vogel
Reviewed by: Sumedha Jaggi

Workplace ostracism means being excluded from a work group or being ignored by co-workers. Prior research has investigated the relationship between ostracism and important job-related work outcomes, such as emotional exhaustion. Emotional exhaustion occurs when an employee cannot meet the emotional demands of a job because work responsibilities have drained the employee’s emotional resources.

Workplace ostracism may also affect the lives of employees outside of work, and can even result in negative emotional experiences for family members. In addition, unpleasant exchanges at home can further undermine employee performance at work. Therefore, understanding the dynamics between work and family domains is important for organizations that want to maximize employee wellness and performance.


The authors of this study (Thompson, Carlson, Kacmar, & Vogel, 2020) investigated the impact of ostracism on job emotional exhaustion and family emotional exhaustion. They collected data via online survey from 350 married couples over three different time periods. The results of their study showed that workplace ostracism has a positive relationship with job emotional exhaustion and family emotional exhaustion. The authors used the “work-home resource” (W-HR) model to explain that workplace ostracism can put individuals in a negative mood and a state of psychological distress, such that it threatens their sense of worth and leaves them feeling disconnected from work. This contributes to their emotional exhaustion at work and spills over to impact emotional exhaustion in the family domain as well.

Further, the study found a positive relationship between workplace ostracism and emotional exhaustion of the employee’s spouse. To explain this relationship, the authors integrate the W-HR model with “crossover theory,” which suggests that an individual’s experience of work-related mistreatment may cross over to affect a spouse’s emotional experiences at home. This is primarily because the psychological distress associated with workplace ostracism can leave individuals ill-equipped to engage in positive interactions with their spouses upon returning home from work. Thus, lack of emotional support from the employee contributes to increased emotional exhaustion for the spouse.


The authors suggest a number of practical implications of this study. Managers can utilize knowledge on workplace ostracism to design interventions capable of minimizing exclusionary behavior. First, managers should try to create an inclusive work culture by setting norms or expectations around workplace conduct and enforcing strong socialization practices to ensure that new employees adjust appropriately. They should stress the importance of being sensitive and respectful toward all employees to enhance feelings of belongingness. Second, managers should encourage employees to share ideas and hold brainstorming sessions with people they don’t otherwise interact with. Managers should find ways to help a diverse group of employees work collaboratively on common goals.

Third, managers can also explore interventions that mitigate the effects of ostracism, such as developing formal mentoring and training programs on how to deal effectively with difficult colleagues. Fourth, managers should consider initiatives that heighten employee self-esteem, as research shows that employees with higher self-esteem may be better able to counter the negative effects of workplace ostracism.

Lastly, leaders should act as role models for exhibiting inclusionary behavior at the workplace, and conversely, they should actively call out exclusionary behavior or mistreatment. Managers may even consider assessing these behaviors during performance reviews to ensure that employees are continuously reminded of the organization’s core values.


Thompson, M. J., Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M., & Vogel, R. M. (2020). The cost of being ignored: Emotional exhaustion in the work and family domains. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(2), 186–195.