No one likes to feel excluded – especially at work – but exclusion plays a bigger role than we may think in the workplace.

Pot Luck Sundays were the highlight of everyone’s week. After all, who doesn’t love food! The medical surgical GI unit instituted Pot Luck Sundays as an initiative to improve staff morale and inject some socialization into the workplace. The unit had high turnover and poor employee engagement scores and hoped getting the staff together over a meal would help.

Pam had worked on the unit for 6 months but never really felt like she fit it. Although she wasn’t a new nurse, she was new to the unit, the hospital, and the city. She had relocated from across the country because she needed to support her aging, sick parents.

Pam looked forward to Pot Luck Sundays as a way to perhaps bond with her coworkers. She was a good cook and made a list of yummy casseroles, salads, and fancy desserts to entice her colleagues. Maybe then they’d accept her.

After a month or so, Pam started noticing that at the end of her shift, whatever she brought for Pot Luck was left untouched. At first, she didn’t think anything of it. After all, maybe her food wasn’t put out timely or they were skeptical of Pam’s culinary creativity. So she started bringing in “regular” stuff, like spinach dip, chips and salsa, etc. However, still…she would leave work bringing her food home.  Pam couldn’t figure it out until one day, as she was packing up her food, one of the nursing assistants whispered something to Pam that brought her to tears.

She said, “The reason that nobody eats your food is because nobody likes you here.”

Her coworkers had socially excluded Pam.

Exclusion means to “shut or keep out” to “expel and keep out” or to “shut out from consideration”. Exclusion is a powerful weapon bullies use when trying to force someone out or make someone feel rejected by the group.

Exclusion is a powerful weapon bullies use when trying to force someone out or make someone feel rejected by… Click to Tweet


Everyone on the leadership team gets the invite for a special meeting with the new CNO except you.

Every year the nursing administration department hosts an off site holiday luncheon. Every nurse executive, director, and manager receives the invite, however, three days before the party, the front line managers get “uninvited” without reason. One manager doesn’t receive the email and shows up only to be stared at and snubbed by the upper leadership.

You see pictures on Facebook of a picnic with most of your coworkers. You were off that day too but never got an invite.


A study conducted by leading social neuroscience researcher, Naomi Eisenberger, showed that when people feel rejected or excluded by others, the pain center of the brain lights up. In other words, feeling socially excluded causes physical pain.

The reason is because social support is protective. Many years ago when cavemen walked the earth, if your clan excluded you – you were lunch to a hungry sabre tooth tiger! When we are included as part of a group, we are safe. When excluded, we are vulnerable.

When we are included as part of a group, we are safe. When excluded, we are vulnerable. Click to Tweet

Gallup reports that the #1 reason why someone stays or leaves their job is the relationship they have with their boss. The #2 reason is whether or not we feel a sense of belonging.

Think about it. These are social reasons. They have nothing to do with the money we make, benefits, patient population, or even location. If you feel socially excluded, you will leave. Why? Because it’s painful to stay.

We are born as individuals but we survive and thrive in groups.


Social exclusion is not easy to prove. So often when confronted, the excluder pulls the “I totally forgot card” or says, “Well, I sent the email [or invite], something must have happened to it. I can’t help it if you didn’t get it.” It’s the proverbial “The check’s in the mail” story.


Let the person know you’re “on to them” by taking a curiosity stance. Say something like, “I’m curious. I’ve noticed that you tend to ‘forget’ to invite me to _____ and I’m wondering if it’s deliberate.” Then say nothing. You will be sending a message that you’re not just going to play the victim role and if they want to continue excluding you, you will be watching.


If the exclusion is impacting your work, document every incident, especially if patients are impacted. If everyone else is told about an update to a policy except you, then you may have a valid complaint. Also, even with pure social exclusion (like what happened to Pam), by gathering your facts and clearly documenting incidents of social exclusion, you can establish that you are working in a hostile environment.


Knowing that human beings are social beings, if you’re not feeling included at work, then kick up your socialization OUTSIDE of work. Spend time with non-work friends, join community clubs, jump on the social media highway, and get involved in your professional nursing organization. The key is to recognize that social relationships matter. If you’re not getting social support at work, increase your social interactions outside of work!

Once Pam realized that she was being deliberately excluded, she stopped participating in Pot Luck Sundays, stopped trying to make friends with her coworkers, and started looking for a new job.

When we exclude others, they will leave us.

One last thing. If you know anyone at work who is being socially excluded, be a friend. Let them know that they can at least count on YOU at work. Treat others with kindness – always.

If you know anyone at work who is being socially excluded, be a friend. Let them know that they can at least… Click to Tweet

As Paulo Coelho so eloquently said, “How people treat other people is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves.”

Thanks so much for reading!

Take care. Be kind. Stay connected.