When Employees Feel Ignored at Work, Everyone Suffers

What exactly does ostracism at work look like?

On the exclusion spectrum you’ll find everything from accidentally leaving someone off a calendar invite to purposefully avoiding an individual in the lunch room. Feeling ignored at work is a silent but hurtful experience.

The topic may seem trivial — “Are adults really so sensitive?” you might ask — but it’s one that can have a serious impact on your employees’ job satisfaction, performance and happiness. A 2014 study questioned if a lack of attention could be more painful for victims than bullying. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is often yes.

feeling ignored at work

University of British Columbia professor Sandra Robinson, one of the study’s authors, told Science Daily that, “Ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless [than bullying], like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

Exclusion is most often accidental, but it may not feel that way to the remote workers who are missing out on meetings and other events. The more spread out your team, the more deliberately you’ll need to address communication. Good processes ensure that everyone has access to the information and people they need to do their job.

Whether your entire team works in the same office or you have employees across the globe, this is an issue you’re almost certain to bump into. Here are a few suggestions, culled from our own experience and that of other successful distributed teams, for addressing exclusion at work.

1. Hire Introverts, But Don’t Treat Them Like Hermits

Introverts tend to gravitate towards remote companies. As employees, they are free to pursue their work in solitude.

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me,” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote in his memoir. “They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. And artists work best alone.”

Working from home or a coffee shop gives introverts the best opportunity get down to the business of creating. As the remote work trend grows, it’s creating new challenges for managers and employees, namely inclusion and communication.

“I believe ostracism is painful regardless of introversion,” Professor Robinson explained to us via email. In other words, just because an employee prefers to work alone doesn’t mean they want to feel ignored at work and be excluded from meetings, group chats and social events.

ignored at work

“This is because the impact of ostracism isn’t so much about being left out or alone,” says Robinson, “but rather the psychological impact: Why was I left out? Why am I ignored? What does this say about me?

When employees feel left out, they are more likely to feel detached from their work and even quit. It’s an issue that remote companies are uncovering slowly. Managers of remote employees have to work toward a balance of steady communication without micro-managing.

Prioritize face-to-face communication

There is no real substitute for face-to-face interaction with another person, even for introverts. While asynchronous communication is often the best strategy for a remote company, regular video meetings are a great way to spark deeper, more meaningful conversations with your employees. This is a great time to collect feedback on inclusion, exclusion and day-to-day communication. Even introverts will appreciate the 1-on-1 time as long as it’s not excessive.

There are other ways to keep introverted employees connected too. In the book REWORK, Basecamp founder Jason Fried makes the point that in-person interaction doesn’t have to come from coworkers. Introverts may dislike video calls with the team, but enjoy spending time with friends. Encourage them to seek positive social interaction on their own terms. Balance is important for all of your employees.

2. Understand How Bias Affects Your Behavior

Here’s a pill that’s hard to swallow: we are all biased.

To understand bias in the workplace, it’s worth examining how law enforcement is currently addressing the issue. In PoliceChief Magazine, University of South Florida criminology Professor Lorie Fridell explains that there are two types of bias:

  1. Explicit bias: Occurs when a person associates a person or group with negative stereotypes. The person is aware of their bias.
  2. Implicit bias: Occurs when a person is unaware of their bias. Implicit bias can affect behavior towards certain individuals or groups.

“Even individuals, who, at the conscious level, reject prejudice and stereotyping, can and do manifest implicit biases,” according to Fridell. Implicit bias is difficult to detect, but important for obvious reasons. A police officer might say, “I’m not racist, so I don’t need bias training,” while unaware that their behavior could be motivated by implicit bias.

In law enforcement, a keen understanding of bias can be the difference between life and death. The stakes at your company likely aren’t as high, but managing bias impacts everything from the diversity of your employees to who gets invited to sit at the lunch table. Bias is nuanced, but worthy of your attention.

Here’s an example we’ve seen play out in remote companies. A manager has embraced asynchronous communication by limiting unnecessary meetings and encouraging the use of Slack, Trello, etc. Developers are happy because they now have more time to work deeply. But the manager overcorrects by excluding developers from the weekly standup meeting, reasoning that they are introverts and don’t want to come anyway. This is implicit bias in action and can make folks feel ignored at work.

It won’t take long before the developers are disconnected from the rest of the company. The lack of standardized communication can leave individuals feeling left out because of the type of work they do. It’s exactly this type of ostracism that can lead to reduced job satisfaction and performance, along with a host of other negative outcomes for the affected workers.

Get Feedback Early and Often to Make Sure No One Feels Ignored at Work

Intangible problems require qualitative feedback.

As a culture, we are looking to data for more and more answers. And while there are a host of questions that data can answer, it’s going to be nearly impossible to measure something as ambiguous as exclusion with anything other than regular conversations.

New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests that data is a terrible way to measure social interactions:

Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition. People are really good at mirroring each other’s emotional states, at detecting uncooperative behavior and at assigning value to things through emotion.

Collect feedback from your employees through conversation or anonymous surveys. (Know Your Company is built for this exact purpose. Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and Typeform can work too.) But don’t wait around for a tool to tell you that your employees aren’t happy or feel ignored at work.

3. Address Exclusion Before It Becomes a Problem and People Feel Ignored at Work

Imagine you manage a development team. You ask your lead developer to send an invite to the weekly standup meeting. They do so, but leave out a member of the team. The meeting is recurring and the ostracized coworker misses several meetings before anyone notices.

Chances are, they simply forgot to add the entire team and the mistake can be easily corrected. It’s already difficult to keep track of the myriad emails, chats and invites that cross our desks each day. But the employee who was left out could be wondering why they weren’t included. Is the quality of their work? Does the team not like them? Before you know it, a great employee, left feeling ignored at work, could be looking for another job.

Businesses grow strategically, but communication usually isn’t deliberate. Early employees choose the tools, and communication habits evolve as more team members join. It’s time to thoughtfully reconsider how your employees communicate.

Processes don’t have to be complex to be effective. Simple procedures — filing status updates in I Done This, handing off drafts to an editor via Trello, etc. — go a long way towards good communication. An informed employee is an effective employee.

ignored at work

Communicate Deliberately

There are two highly effective ways to encourage the free and open flow of information, which is an obvious defense against accidental exclusion.

  1. Embrace asynchronous communication. Nearly four million people work from home at least half the time. If your company has multiple offices, is entirely distributed or is somewhere in between, asynchronous communication — i.e. using tools like I Done This, Trello and Slack — makes information accessible to everyone. A commitment to asynchronous communication means that information is always accessible. The more information is accessible, the less likely employees are to feel ignored at work.
  2. Treat all employees the same. Regardless of location or time zone, every employee deserves the benefit of open communication. The team at Basecamp, who literally wrote the book on remote work, believes that equality is the key. As Basecamp designer Jason Zimdars wrote on the company blog, “There are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done.”

It’s good to keep an eye out for ostracism, but it’s better to prevent it altogether.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Stop Information Overload and Treating Your Mind Like a Filing Cabinet

In the SaaS startup world, there’s always a push towards self-improvement. Every employee tries to learn, memorize, and have working knowledge of everything even loosely associated with their role in the company.

But unlike the tools we work with, we’re not super-computers and we often face information overload. Our brains aren’t designed to soak up, process, and store all the information that we encounter. Ironically, in order to retain more, we actually have to absorb less. You have to be selective about what you put your mind to.

information overload

You have a limited amount of mental resources, so you have to free up some of that space by outsourcing. Here’s how.

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How To Work With A Motormouth

You walk into your office on a Monday morning and are instantly overwhelmed with the amount of work you have that week.

Just as you’ve figured out how to cram all your meetings and projects into your schedule, you look up from your desk and are instantly full of dread. Your chatty coworker is headed right toward you and has chosen you as his next victim. Well, there goes the better part of the morning.

chatty coworker

Of course, having a great social relationship can boost company culture. Once in a while, some water cooler talk can be a nice break from your hard work, but some people take this way too far. Some will come by your desk every few hours, and even remote workers might incessantly ping you on Slack. According to a survey conducted by talent mobility company Lee Hecht Harrison, talkative coworkers are the #1 disruption at work.

Here are the different kinds of chatty coworkers, and how to keep them from disrupting your day.

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14 Learning Apps That Keep Your Mind Sharp

Studies have shown that the average person only retains about 10% of what they read. In the Information Age, we have so many resources at our fingertips that our brain doesn’t get the practice it needs to stay sharp and retain information.

A few years ago, UCLA Professor of Psychiatry Gary Small found that spending a lot of time online actually rewires our brain. Because of all the skimming that we are forced to do, we replace deep, careful learning with hurried, shallow thinking.


But all hope isn’t lost. Instead of using technology as a crutch to free us of having to do calculations or remember information, we can use it to improve our thinking and our capacity for learning. There are tons of activities and exercise that can be found in mobile apps that actually improve our cognitive functions.

Here are some iOS and Android learning apps that will get those brain muscles flexing.

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Why You Should Stop Copying Google’s Employee Perks

Not only is Google rated the #1 place to work year after year, but it’s one of most valuable companies on earth. And that’s by no coincidence. To get there, Google spent years perfecting their employee perks to create a positive and highly-productive environment.

Google Campus Dublin - Gasworks - Microkitchen - Floor Identity: Waterworld - Foto Peter Wurmli - © Camenzind Evolution

Google Campus Dublin – Gasworks – Microkitchen – Floor Identity: Waterworld – Foto Peter Wurmli – © Camenzind Evolution

But Google has only been able to grow into a $360 billion company by trying bold new things and constantly iterating their systems—not by blindly applying the successful models of other companies.

To succeed as a startup, you also have to be careful not to just adopt trendy fads, but rather find what works best for you through constant iteration. In fact, there are tons of companies that do the opposite of what Google does and thrive as a result.

Here are some examples of super successful startups that refrained from Googlifying their environment.

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Why Your Goals Aren’t Making You More Productive

Google didn’t become one of the most valuable brands in the world by accident. It’s been rated the #1 place to work by Fortune for seven of the last 10 years, and called “employee heaven” by leadership advocate Will Marré.

The secret to their employee engagement is a little trick they picked up from Intel: the OKR system. OKR stands for objective and key results. The premise of OKR goals is that every employee, from entry-level to CEO, is working towards a single objective that aligns with the general mission of the company. Each objective has key results which serve as measuring sticks for the success of that objective.


Now used by tons of tech companies, the OKR system has become hugely popular in the tech community. But misuse of OKR goals can not only prove ineffective—it can prove fatal to your organization. Here are four disastrous goal-setting mistakes that startups make.

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Museum Hack’s Productivity Case Study

We developed IDoneThis to help teams become more productive, and to eliminate the need for time-consuming meetings. But some of our customers have found more creative ways to use us than we even imagined! Here’s how one of our clients, Museum Hack, uses IDoneThis to stay on task.

CEO Nick Gray used to hate museums. But just one incredible museum experience, totally turned him. Before he knew it, he was a museum junkie spewing fun facts about ancient artifacts to all his friends.

He had such a knack for bringing the art to life that the popularity of his unofficial tours took off and became the impetus for his unique startup: interactive museum tours.


When Nick founded his museums-made-easy company, productivity tools were the last thing on his mind. But three years later, as Museum Hack had grown multi-fold, and its guides began to work in locations across three major cities, they were in serious need of a catch-all productivity tool that would keep them connected and on schedule. They found just that in IDoneThis.

We spoke with Michael, the Head of Marketing of Museum Hack, to get an idea of the problems they faced as they expanded, and how they used IDoneThis features to address them.

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Trust, But Verify: The Key Management Tool To Build Team Satisfaction

Delegation is one of the hardest management tools for leaders to learn.

We all understand that micromanaging your employees isn’t good for anyone, but when you’re used to being involved in everything, it can be hard to let go. It gets easier as you hire great people and implement sound processes—watching your company grow without your fingerprint on everything is a beautiful thing.

Perspective helps too.


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The Father of Personal Productivity Joins the I Done This Team

I Done This is pleased to announce our newest addition to the team: Ben Franklin, or, as we call him, Benji. He will be assuming the role of in-house personal productivity expert and is super excited to be sharing his insights.

I have been invited to join I Done This as the in-house personal productivity expert for a pretty obvious reason: I’m really great at getting things done.

My main accomplishments have been in the fields of technology and innovation, although when I dabbled in politics I did help draft the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, earning me that “founding father” title. I also have 9 honorary degrees and have held 16 public offices. In case you’ve never seen one, my face has also been put on the hundred dollar bill.

What can I say— personal productivity just comes easy to me. But it wasn’t always that way. I’ve spent years developing the best method for personal productivity. And I’m about to let you in on my secret.

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Daria the Developer Hates Daily Standup

This week’s post is a guest article by Dillon Forrest, Product Manager & Growth Hacker

Daria the Developer shows up to work at 8:55am, a bit early for her daily standup at 9am. Most of her coworkers roll into the office in the next few minutes. Nobody’s gotten their coffee yet.

At 9am on the dot, the project manager power walks through Daria’s section of the bullpen and says, “Standup time, good morning everybody, let’s go everybody, come on everybody, standup time, let’s go! Starting at 9am sharp!”

There are 12 people on the calendar invite for this team: 5 developers, 1 designer, 1 product manager, 2 QA managers, 1 project manager, the VP of Engineering, and the CTO.

The VP Eng and CTO aren’t present, but that’s normal. They never show up for daily standup. They haven’t attended a daily standup since Daria joined the company. They are both adamant about everybody showing up at 9am sharp for standup, but they themselves might roll into the office around 10:30.


Two developers and a QA manager are late. The seven present team members stand in a circle in the center of the bullpen, and the project manager insists on starting the daily standup without the absent coworkers. The project manager is quite impressive at following orders from the higher-ups when it comes to starting meetings on time.

The two tardy developers roll into the office at 9:05am, and sadly they’ve missed the daily update from three people already. Tardy Developer #1 hasn’t taken off his jacket or bag yet, but the project manager jumps at the chance to suggest that Tardy Developer #1 give his update.

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