Workplace ostracism is equal or worse than bullying: UBC study

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Feeling isolated in the workplace is more harmful than bullying and harassment, according to a new study released by the Sauder School of Business, UBC.

Feeling isolated in the workplace is more harmful than bullying and harassment, according to a new study released by the Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia.

Workplace ostracism includes being ignored, excluded from invitations, feeling rejected by other co-workers, and even not returning someone’s greetings, as indicated by the study.

Territorial behaviours in the work place such as people who demonstrate more aggressive stances to control their work environments, can also potentially lead to shunning their co-workers.

Yet, this subtle form of aggression is often overlooked in workplace anti-harassment policies.

“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 a co-author of the study, Professor Sandra Robinson. “But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

The key, adds Robinson, is that employers need to be aware of ostracism and include positive ways of approaching the issue in their policies. Most of employers’ efforts have been geared towards more visible forms of bullying so far.

“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,” says Robinson.

Current workplace anti-harassment strategies focus mostly on obvious types of harassment such as bullying, sexual harassment and overt anti-social behaviour.

“Managers should address ostracism and not tolerate this kind of exclusion,” says Robinson. “I don’t think most people realize how harmful it is.”

Research behind this study also shows that people who feel excluded or ignored by their co-workers have less commitment to their jobs and poorer mental and physical health.

The study, Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention? The Comparative Effects of Ostracism and Harassment at Work, found that many people might not even be aware that they are engaging in ostracism in the workplace.

But other co-workers can be part of the solution if they are educated on conflict resolution and constructive disagreement with their co-workers.

Professor Robinson will be speaking on this issue as part of the Dark Side of the Workplace symposium on Wednesday, June 4 at UBC Robson Square. For more information, please click here

For the full study: Is Negative Attention Better Than No Attention

 

Featured Image: workplace bullying via Shutterstock

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