It's no fun being on the outside looking in when it comes to workplace camaraderie. If you're not part of "the" group, or of any group at all, lunch hours, time around the water cooler and social occasions can be extremely uncomfortable. If you care about being ostracized -- not everyone does -- you can take steps to bring yourself into the office fold.
Assess the situation. Why aren't you part of any social group? If you're the youngest in your office by 30 years and everyone else has worked there for 20 years, you might never be able to break in the group. If everyone else is single and you have kids, you might never be invited out for drinks unless you invite yourself. But if your soul-searching indicates that your behavior is responsible for your being on the outside looking in, it's time for change.
Make positive changes. What about you is turning people off? Do you dress too provocatively, dress too sloppy, or forget to shower for days on end? Generally, only your really best friends will tell you if you have bad breath or an offensive odor; work people will just avoid you. Do you have a reputation as a huge gossip? That could be why no one wants to talk to you. Take steps to fix whatever issues you can.
Tell people you've changed and that you want to be friends. You don't have to do this literally; if you've changed what you can, people will notice. But you need to find ways to let them know you're looking for friendship. Speak to people rather than waiting for them to speak to you, but keep it short. Trapping people in the kitchen for a 20-minute conversation won't win you any friends; being friendly and approachable but not overwhelming might.
Take the situation to management if ostracism advances into bullying or harassment. Laws to prevent workplace harassment can't force people to invite you to lunch, but it can prevent people from going over the line, making threats, interfering with your work or spreading rumors about you.
Keep things in perspective. While it's hard not to, don't let workplace ostracism destroy your confidence and self-esteem. Many times, office dynamics that have nothing to do with you personally are the reason you're being cut out of the social scene. If things gets out of hand and it's strongly affecting your life, consider looking for another job.
- Harassment goes beyond teasing or an occasional practical joke. Bring harassment charges only if a coworker's action crosses the legal line or could result in physical harm. Charging your coworkers with harassment without a valid complaint will do nothing to improve your situation and could worsen it.
A registered nurse with more than 25 years of experience in oncology, labor/delivery, neonatal intensive care, infertility and ophthalmology, Sharon Perkins has also coauthored and edited numerous health books for the Wiley "Dummies" series. Perkins also has extensive experience working in home health with medically fragile pediatric patients.