Ignorance Not So Blissful: Why Work Ostracism Is Worse Than You Think


Have you ever felt like you’re sitting in a grown-up version of high school instead of the workplace? Perhaps there’s chatty cliques and gossip geese blending between cubicles as a few lonely losers go about their business, ignored nonetheless. A new study out of Canada found that workplace ostracism, or being ignored/excluded from a group, could even be more harmful than workplace bullying.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business studied ostracism and its impact on physical and mental employee health and realized it can be more dangerous to one’s well-being than harassment or many other types of bullying. The study results were published online in the journal Organization Science.

Sandra Robinson, co-author of the study as well as researcher of workplace behavior for more than ten years, says ostracism occurs when other people don’t socially interact with an individual in the same way they’d be expected to in the given situation. Robinson explained that “people may fail to invite you to meetings you should go to” when talking of people being ostracised. She then noted that someone could feel ostracized “when you walk up to the water cooler, people go silent; you sit alone in the lunchroom; you feel like people are giving you the silent treatment. The variety is endless, but the sense is that you’re not receiving back what you normally would expect in a given situation.”

To understand what happens when this behavior occurs, Robinson and the three other members of her research squad examined separate responses of a group of surveys they gave out to managers and employees working for different organizations. Initially, they asked 90 managers about their personal perception of ostracism compared to bullying at work.

“We found that ostracism was seen as more socially acceptable, less likely to get the actor in trouble at work, and also it was less harmful than bullying behavior,” Robinson concluded.


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