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Restructures and Mergers - 24 October 2013

There’s a lot of debate among researchers on the effectiveness of corporate restructures. (Actually, there isn’t that much debate about it at all.  Almost all of the research indicates there’s very little – if any – difference between organisations that undertake restructures and those that don’t, but let’s pretend for the moment that they’re valuable and necessary.)

Restructures, even at their most successful, can be tremendously difficult.  Organisations are traditionally good at implementing them, but not so good at keeping employees engaged throughout the process.  An analysis published in the Journal of Management earlier this year shed some new light on one particular repercussion: employee ostracism.

There are two ways in which employees can be ostracised in the workplace.  The first is what’s known as purposeful ostracism, which is when the ostracising is intentional.  This occurs when leaders ignore, exclude, or neglect an employee on purpose.  They withhold information and communicate less, usually for reasons of vengeance or power.

The second is what’s known as non-purposeful ostracism.  This is the one most likely to happen during restructures, mergers, or other times of major upheaval.  It is accidental.  Employees are excluded or ignored not because of any malicious reason but because the uncertainty and pace of change make leaders forgetful or temporarily inconsiderate.

So why is this important?  It’s important because studies indicate that employee ostracism leads to irrational behaviour, aggression, disengagement, and poor performance.  It’s critical, then, to be aware of the three types of accidental ostracism that occur during a restructure so that you can avoid them if you can.

  -  Linguistic ostracism is when you converse using words and phrases that others don’t understand.  If you find yourself using jargon unfamiliar to the people around you, either explain it or use common language instead.

  -  Social rejection is when someone seeks to be a part of a group but is rejected.  If you notice this happening, ask the person doing the rejecting to justify why that employee was knocked back.

  -  Organisational shunning is when you’re part of a clique into which others are uninvited.  If you find yourself being a member of a group that has left someone out, be the one who thoughtfully brings that person back into the fold.

If you didn’t have many friends in high school, or were ever left alone at a party, you would know what it feels like to be ostracised.  Those who are ostracised at work end up experiencing a very similar sensation.  It’s never pleasant to be invisible.


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