At one of my first jobs, I felt seriously ignored by one of my bosses. He was setting up meetings and chit-chatting with all of my colleagues. After two weeks of noticing that I wasn’t getting invited to any of those congregations, I felt that maybe I was expecting too much of him.
One day during the final hours, I walked up to him and initiated a conversation with him. Let’s just say I had seen him act more politely with the interns. After feeling ten times worse than I was feeling before I started the conversation, I awkwardly ended that conversation.
The red flag couldn’t be more apparent – in the social hierarchy at my workplace, I was demoted to the point of no return. I quit the company in a couple of months for other reasons but those feelings of being sidelined stuck with me even at my next two jobs.
If you’re thinking I should’ve “built my communication skills” at that previous job, don’t worry, I’ve spent years thinking that as well. Until I started getting appreciated at one of my later jobs, I realized that employees can’t hack their ways into feeling appreciated by their supervisors or peers.
There are deep rooted issues at play when employees constantly feel sidelined in work environments. Sometimes, it’s the employees’ decisions and nature which make coworkers or supervisors view them with certain biases.
Other times, sidelining is, unfortunately, a disgraceful ‘scheme’ plotted by two or more members of the workplace. The attacks that are active parts of such schemes usually go under the radar.
Not many third-parties who aren’t involved in these scare tactics even realize that members of a workforce are secretly ganging up against a specific colleague. It may seem like a game to them.
From my experience as a sidelined worker, I’ve realized that some of the main reasons why people tend to sideline certain individuals at work are –
- Unpleasant history with one team member (especially experienced pros) can result in group bullying in no time
- People who are jealous of your success may express their envy by avoiding you
- Wherever there’s sidelining, someone’s ego has been hurt.
- Racial or sexual prejudice is still extremely common in modern-day workplaces. Even though both of these forms of discrimination are illegal, the workplace laws don’t prevent people from sending ‘under the radar’ messages of hostility or unacceptance.
Since elements of ‘danger’ in the workplace, especially for lower-level employees, are extremely high, the additional pressure of feeling sidelined can take a toll on an anyone.
Pressure from management, competing companies, stakeholders, and the push for results are forces strong enough to tire any employee.
Unfortunately, these pressures often compel workers to ruthlessly discriminate against people they view as threats. Even stealing credit for a co-employee’s work isn’t out of bounds in such high-pressure situations.
Amidst all this pressure, the conservative and laidback voices seem to suffer the most. Like myself, many end up leaving their respective companies on short notice or keep feeling sidelined for torturously long periods.
Prevalence of This Problem
If you’re feeling sidelined at work, oddly there’s “good” news for you – you’re not alone. There’s a large subsection of the employee pool that currently feel sidelined and here are some statistics that depict how such professionals react –
- In a recent survey by SurveyMonkey, 63% of employees said recognition at their workplaces made them feel loyal to their companies. They said they’re “unlikely” to go job hunting if they received regular recognition.
- In another survey, 80% of workers said they’re willing to work overtime for a compassionate employer. Those respondents also stated the need to feel praised more at work.
Are You Sidelined or Is It Just Your Perception?
The fact that I’m even raising this question is strange. Modern-day HR departments are currently using predictive analytics to recognize flight risk employees but they can’t discover whether an employee is feeling sidelined or not? Strange, right?
That’s why I ask all my friends and coworkers who crave compassionate recognition and morale boosts at their workplaces to do their part and truly probe their feelings of discontentment. Is it internal or external? Here are some good measures –
- Look for Positive Signs (if any) – Most people who accept that they’re sidelined, fail to notice the positive body languages co-employees exhibit around them. Be it a subtle smile or a simple nod – simple messages can bring a lot of hope.
- Identify the Negative Signs – When people deliberately want others to feel sidelined, they act slyly. Diverted eyes, suspicious vocal tones, or a general disregard for your opinions are all clear signs that someone wants you to feel sidelined.
- Introspect – Have the feelings of being sidelined been triggered by some of your actions? Have you irked a manager or violently opposed a coworker of late? Sometimes, resolving these minor issues can make feelings of being sidelined go away.
- Ask for a Third-Party’s Opinion – Most workers who feel sidelined don’t think they have ‘friends’ at their workplaces, so they’re naturally hesitant to ask for their opinions, especially on an issue that involves something so private as self-worth. However, sometimes it’s worth it to have these awkward exchanges in return for truths or obvious hints. Gaining a third-person’s perspective on the issue can resolve many problems that might have felt unsolvable in the past.
- Ask the Manager – The final option is the most direct one and should be exercised when sidelining has happened for too long. After all, such long periods of sidelining are impossible without the clandestine go-aheads of the management. Ask your manager for help because you’re feeling sidelined. If the manager is in on it, this question can either clear the air or confirm your worst fears – the system is designed against you!
So, are you officially the ‘ugly duckling’ at your workplace? Don’t worry – I’ve been in that position in the past and so have many others. Thankfully, I’ve noticed some amazing instances where people feeling blatantly sidelined and let-down by management or by fellow team members made amazing comebacks.
Here are some good real-life examples on how to deal with feelings of disapproval and ‘sidelining’ at workplaces
Situation #1 – Hush-hush Status Battle Within the Team
One of my close friends Max was engaged in a ruthless status battle at his workplace. His team was fracturing into sections – one formed around his opponent from the same department and another formed around him. With time, their different styles of working and completely different ambitions for the department led to more confusion.
As both of them were pulling heavily in different directions, Max started to feel isolated. He was losing this obnoxious battle and he could feel it. Instead of giving in, Max doubled-down on his convictions and further avoided mediation.
Soon enough, Max’s ‘posse’ started to lose numbers which made Max feel extremely dejected.
Thankfully, before Max went ahead with his decision to quit the job and stop playing this vicious game, he used a highly efficient technique – feedback. Gaining feedback from the ‘enemy’ involved talking in a totally non-confrontational way.
Here’s how Max used feedback with a colleague he considered the sole source of his workplace issues for many months –
- He spoke to his colleague in private when both of them were free. He had decided in advance which key topics he had to bring up.
- Instead of saying “You make me feel a certain way,” Max clearly stated the real issue – “I can’t meet my weekly targets if I don’t cooperate with you.”
- He listened to his colleague’s response and gladly accepted the criticism meted out to him. Some of them felt fair and some unfair but Max didn’t interrupt the guy. Instead, he focused on this person’s behavior, letting go of his earlier perceptions of the man.
- He realized that some of his colleague’s behaviors hadn’t been helpful in the past but that didn’t make him an inherently obstructive or menacing person.
- Max notified his colleague that there was clearly a problem that needed addressing and asked him to suggest a solution. He also suggested some alternative behavioral patterns for his rival and politely asked him to adopt them.
After listening to the other person’s response, Max was clear about the compromises he had to make in the future. He also made it clear that he expected a similar change in outlook and behavior from his colleague.
Soon enough, other team members who had left Max’s ‘posse’ returned. Word spread around that the ‘civil war’ was over. To Max’s delight, other members of the workforce were equally frustrated with this faux war and were only taking sides because they felt doing so solidified their career prospects. Addressing the root of the problem cleared all the rumors, tensions, and feelings of being sidelined!
Situation #2 – Not Getting a Promotion
This situation is quite common so I’ll share how my cousin Stacy overcame this challenge at her workplace.
My cousin Stacy was torn apart between three feelings –
- She felt that she needed a promotion.
- She felt her behavior was somehow hindering her path to getting promoted.
- She also felt she was assuming that she’s earnt a promotion.
Add to these feelings the fact that her boss wasn’t quite appreciative of her on a regular basis and we have a perfect conundrum. Stacy really liked her job at the beginning but felt her then current role would not translate to long-term success in her industry (marketing).
After months of feeling unappreciated, undervalued, and sidelined, she asked a senior manager (someone from another department) for advice.
Her senior asked her to answer some introspective questions –
- Are you actively taking feedback from your supervisors?
- Have you taken enough initiatives as an employee in your position?
- Is the company outgrowing your career ambitions?
Here answers were – yes, yes, and no. She clearly wanted to continue at her existing company. If she got a promotion and stopped feeling sidelined, it would make her even more loyal to the company. So, she narrowed down her possible flaws and qualities, and went to speak with her direct supervisor.
She was assertive and non-confrontational and if highlighting the problem was going to get her fired, she was mentally prepared for that outcome. At the meeting, she –
- Discussed her career objectives.
- Documented her recent achievements and positive performance reviews.
- Shared the fact that some of her colleagues had received promotions despite contributing significantly less.
A boss who is downright incompetent could’ve made Stacy’s life immensely difficult since that discussion. However, he explained that Stacy’s whole department was performing below expectations that year and as a result and she missed out on a promotion.
Unfortunately, Stacy left her job before getting her much-coveted promotion.
However, by jotting down her achievements down in black and white, she was able to truly identify her self-worth. After that discussion, the feelings of being sidelined dissipated quickly and Stacy focused on networking and looking for a better-paying job. This experience had helped her a lot in her future jobs.
Sometimes, these discussions don’t go as planned. Sometimes, a supervisor may single you out and pick on you. Sometimes your supervisor may be sexist, racist, ageist or classist.
No matter how distressing the situation may be, employees can hopefully learn from these examples that there’s always hope for self-improvement and improvements at the workplace as long as they are prepared to address the situation and not avoid it.
If quitting the job is the solution that comes out of these discussions, then so be it. But, quitting without tackling this issue is a mistake. I’ve made this mistake before and I hope others don’t!