Many people, regardless of occupation, have experienced a difficult boss or annoying co-workers. It might even be harassment or bullying.
It's still better than being ignored, according to a paper in Organization Science. University of British Columbia scholars contend that while most consider ostracism less harmful than bullying, feeling excluded is significantly more likely to lead 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," says Professor Sandra Robinson, who co-authored the paper. "But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they're not worthy of any attention at all."
The researchers used a series of surveys for their study. First they determined that people consistently rate workplace ostracism as less socially inappropriate, less psychologically harmful and less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment.
If you are being picked on, at least you are noticed. Photo: Ariadna de Raadt, iStock. Credit and link: UBC
Additional surveys revealed that people who claimed to have experienced ostracism were significantly more likely to report a degraded sense of workplace belonging and commitment, a stronger intention to quit their job, and a larger proportion of health problems.
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."