By: Aja King, Ed.D., LPCC
My first real office was located on the first floor of the medical center. The gorgeous view of the parking lot allowed me to watch the snow fall on the stone bench. I often reflected and stared out of the window when I need to unwind. I recall one day being transitioned from my first floor office, to a basement office located behind another secure door. This level of seclusion pushed me to the edge of madness. The transition was suppose to include other colleagues who practiced therapy, leaving the first floor for psychiatrist. Consequently, I was the only one who transitioned. My move occurred in February 2015, but that September 2015 I was out the door and working in private practice. After my move into the basement, I begin to feel closed-in, surrounded, and most of all, isolated. My work production of work declined drastically, and I begin to come into work later. It did not help when my patients showed disgust, because the office resembled a jail cell. My employers tried to appease me by moving me to a slightly bigger office with a giant adjustable desk. I tried my best to perform like a team player, but as I grew increasingly isolated I quickly lost my momentum. I arrived late for appointments, and I was growing further behind in my notes. The average turnaround time for documentation was 48 to 72 hours; I was averaging one week. I dragged myself into work grudgingly and with despair. My delinquent documentation and tardiness alerted my supervisor who eventually put me on a time management plan. I knew the problem very well. I was isolated, alone, and separated from the noise. My ability to check with my colleagues periodically, gaze out the window to gather my thoughts, and of course, feel alive were all snuffed away.
Despite the behavior management plan my supervisor created, I knew that I was slowly moving into the abyss of madness, loneliness, and depression. Because I am a person who is vocal about my needs, I did inform my supervisor of my limitations and the need to be free to increase my productivity. She smiled and gently encouraged me to walk throughout the facility to gather myself. I often repeated to myself Maya Angelou’s poem, “I know why the caged bird sings.”. I was a trapped bird that could not fly, sing, or explore her surroundings, but yet, I was expected to produce the nectar for the flower. Being mental health practitioner requires energy and unconditional positive regard; my lack of energy would not allow me to emotionally connect. My breaking point came when I came into work and a colleague vaguely threatened to report me to the supervisor for missing meetings, and arriving late. I am not sure if I gracefully answered him with a reasonable excuse, but I do know that my “clap back” made him leave me alone. During lunch on the warm summer afternoon, my friend and I walked the block talking about my struggles; I begin to cry. I remember informing my friend that coming to work made me want to run out the exits of the building, take my clothes off, and set myself on fire. My friend gently laughed, but sympathized with my feelings, and gave me “permission” to fulfill my dreams. My experience with exclusion within the workplace was major, and yet, minor. The feelings of exclusion within the workplace disconnects the employee from the organization. Researchers Hitlan, Cliffton, and DeSoto (2006) described my experience as, perceived exclusionary behavior. The actions of exclusionary behavior may include, but not limited to: rejection, being ignored, or being shunned. The perception of being excluded has lethal consequences as the actual behavior. Hitlan, Cliffton and DeSota (2006) explained that the lack of interpersonal relationship with one’s peers creates feelings of devalue. I cannot say for sure that my experience of isolation was a direct attempt to exclude me. Nonetheless, I do believe that once I voiced my anguish and the matter was not taken into consideration, I no longer felt connected to the organization.
There are strategies that can help you maneuver between feelings of exclusionary behavior.
JOIN A COMMITTEE
Joining a committee at work is helpful because it provides an opportunity to voice your opinion, and make pivotal changes within the organization. I never joined a committee due to me not caring anymore. For those who can find a spark in their soul for their company should use this strategy.
ASK FOR NEW ROLES
Maybe you enjoy your job but the seclusion has isolated you. You could suggest to your employer a new role within the organization. New responsibilities allows you to explore new areas within your career, connect with more opportunities, and redefine your existence.
WORK FOR YOURSELF
My period of exclusion caused temporary discomfort, but it led me into my own entrepreneurial spirit. I joined a group practice, was provided an opportunity to train organizations, and go part-time with organization I was leaving. Taking your skills and moving into your own arena of life is freeing, rewarding, and encourages professional growth. Discomfort may be the sign to go.
Some people may not have the option of leaving their careers and starting over. Therefore, practicing self-care is essential to maintaining a healthy work life. Attending MeetUp Groups, counseling, or exploring hobbies help to relieve stressors and network with others who are experiencing workplace drama.
Due to exclusionary behavior sometimes being a covert (hidden) action, reporting this microaggression can be difficult to prove. Therefore, making notes and documenting is very important to show patterns, on ongoing consistent behavior. No matter how benign they may seem, document.
My story, as I mentioned before, is not an extreme case of exclusionary behavior, and this is due to my willingness to explore more options. Yes, my friends and colleagues were more nervous about me walking away from government benefits and perks. Nonetheless, my sanity meant more than the perks. Today, I have freedom, peace, and opportunities to meet more people than ever before. So, take charge of your happiness and career, and don’t get stuck in the basement.
Hitlan, R.T., Cliffton, R.J., and DeSoto, M.C. (2006). Perceived exclusion in the workplace: the moderating effects of gender on work-related attitudes and psychological health. North American Journal of Psychology, 8(20), 217-236.
Aja King is a licensed professional clinical counselor, and counseling psychologist who offers her realistic views of workplaces and the importance of diversity and inclusion to promote mental wellness.