June 6, 2014
Being ignored at work is worse for physical and mental wellbeing than harassment or bullying, says a new study from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business. Researchers found that while most see ostracism as less harmful than bullying, feeling excluded is significantly more likely to lead to job dissatisfaction and health problems. The study, Is negative attention better than no attention? The comparative effects of ostracism and harassment at work, is to be published in the next issue ofOrganization Science. The researchers found that people rate workplace ostracism as less socially inappropriate, less psychologically harmful and less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment. Additional research revealed that people who claimed to have experienced ostracism were significantly more likely to report a degraded sense of belonging and commitment, a stronger intention to quit their job, and an increase in health problems.
“We’ve been taught that ignoring someone is socially preferable–if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” says Professor Sandra Robinson, who co-authored the study. “But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”
The researchers also took an employment survey by a Canadian university that included feedback on feelings of workplace isolation and harassment and compared it to turnover rates three years after the survey was conducted and found that people who reported feeling ostracized were significantly more likely to have quit.
“There is a tremendous effort underway to counter bullying in workplaces and schools, which is definitely important. But abuse is not always obvious,” says Robinson. “There are many people who feel quietly victimized in their daily lives, and most of our current strategies for dealing with workplace injustice don’t give them a voice.”
The study, was co-authored by Professor Jane O’Reilly, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Professor Jennifer Berdahl, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and Professor Sara Banki, Graduate School of Management and Economics, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran.