Researchers found that while most consider ostracism less harmful than bullying, feeling excluded is 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 Professor Sandra Robinson, from the
University of British Columbia's Sauder School of Business, 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 said.
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.
Additional surveys found 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 ostracised 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," said Robinson.
"There are many people who feel quietly victimised in their daily lives, and most of our current strategies for dealing with workplace injustice don't give them a voice," said Robinson.
The research was co-authored by Professor Jane O'Reilly, Telfer School of Management, University of Ottawa, Professor Jennifer Berdahl, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and Professor Sara Banki, Graduate School of Management and Economics, Sharif University of Technology, Tehran.
The study will appear in the journal Organization Science.


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