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Build Your Career Office Life

Workplace Isolation Is Silent Form of Bullying

Workplace Isolation Is Silent Form of Bullying
Isolation at work can be a silent form of bullying. / Credit: Man standing alone image via Shutterstock

You're better off getting picked on in the office than not getting any attention at all, new research suggests.

Being ignored at work is worse for an employee's physical and mental well-being than harassment or bullying, according to a study set to be published in the journal Organization Science.Researchers found that while most people consider ostracism less harmful than bullying, feelings of exclusion are significantly more likely to lead to job dissatisfaction, quitting and 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," said Sandra Robinson, one of the study's authors and a professor in the University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business. "But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they're not worthy of any attention at all."

Researchers based their conclusions on a series of surveys. The first one determined that people consistently rate workplace ostracism as more socially appropriate, less psychologically harmful and less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment.

Additional surveys showed that employees who claimed to have experienced ostracism were significantly more likely to report health problems, a degraded sense of workplace belonging and commitment, and a stronger intention to quit their jobs.

The researchers also examined a previous employment survey that included feedback on feelings of workplace isolation and harassment and compared it to turnover rates three years after the survey was conducted. They found that people who reported feeling ostracized were significantly more likely to quit.

"There is a tremendous effort underway to counter bullying in workplaces and schools, which is definitely important. But abuse is not always obvious," Robinson said. "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 University of Ottawa professor Jane O'Reilly, University of Toronto professor Jennifer Berdahl and Sharif University of Technology professor Sara Banki.

Originally published on Business News Daily

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.

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