Silent workplace ostracism more harmful than outright bullying

by Juliette Willow11 Jun 2014
Silent ostracism may be more harmful than outright bullying when it comes to mental wellbeing at work, say researchers from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business.

Niggling feelings of exclusion are significantly more likely than bullying to lead to job dissatisfaction, health problems and resignation.

"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 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."

Robinson’s surveys found that people consistently rated workplace ostracism as both less inappropriate and harmful than harassment.

But studies of the actual results of ostracism conflicted with perceptions.

A statistical analysis of turnover amongst staff at a Canadian university also backed this up.

Those who had reported feeling isolated at work were significantly more likely to have quit three years down the track than those who had claimed to feel harassed.

"There is a tremendous effort underway to counter bullying in workplaces and schools, which is definitely important. But abuse is not always obvious," said 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."


  • by Deb 11/06/2014 12:35:08 PM

    I find this one divided on gender lines. Women are very likely to use exclusion as a punishment and in my experience male managers don't see it as a problem. I had an office manager barely speak to me for over 3 months (lots of "Sue, please ask Debbie if she has done the banking" - while I was sitting at the next desk) - it was very uncomfortable and made it hard to come to work but the GM didn't see it as an issue; he basically told me to get over it.

  • by Adam 11/06/2014 1:37:02 PM

    Deb, I agree up to a point. However, males can also feel very isolated when excluded. I think it does start way back in school; when it was simply devastating "to be sent to Coventry" (using the British idiom here) or deliberately ostracised. It is bullying, pure and simple. Your GM was wrong.

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