HUMAN RESOURCES / MAR. 31, 2015
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Study Explores The Impact Of Ostracism At Work

I’m sure we’ve all either encountered or heard about bullying on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. It seems that the relative anonymity and distance provided by the web empowers people to say and do things that they often wouldn’t dream of doing in real life.

See Also: What Bullying Reveals About Your Workplace

With social networks increasingly being used inside the organisation, is there a similar risk of this kind of behaviour creeping into the workplace? A new Canadian study suggests that not only is it very possible, but it’s also extremely damaging to the workplace.

The research found that being ostracised at work is incredibly harmful to our job satisfaction and is often much more so than a more explicit form of abuse such as harassment.

Even more worryingly, the study discovered that ostracism at work is rather more common than harassment, which renders it a much larger problem for managers to overcome.

The authors surveyed a group of employees from a range of industries.  They were each asked to share how socially inappropriate a range of behaviours were, and how harmful they’d find them if they happened to them at work. They were also asked to reveal how big the punishment would be if each of the behaviours were exhibited in their current workplace.

Interestingly, the study suggests that most of us regard things such as ignoring, overlooking or excluding a colleague as much less egregious, and also less prohibited at work than behaviours such as teasing, belittling or gossiping about a colleague.

“One is less likely to be seen as a bad person for ignoring or excluding someone than for openly insulting, yelling at, or threatening him or her,” the researchers say. “Furthermore, one is less likely to be caught or reported for ostracizing someone and can more easily claim a lack of intent (e.g., being too busy to respond, forgetting to include someone).”

How common is ostracism?

Next, the authors set out to understand how frequently ostracism occurred. This time they asked participants to report how often they had experienced various kinds of treatment at work, and also how engaged they were at their current job.

As expected, the results revealed that ostracism was a much bigger problem than harassment, with a depressing 70 percent of people saying they had experienced it in some form during the last six months.  What’s more, ostracism was also found to have a more damaging impact on employee engagement than other behaviours, such as harassment.

The research also revealed that we are likely to look for new work when we feel ostracised at work while sufferers also reported a higher likelihood of suffering from health problems.

How can you tell if you’ve been ostracised?

The tricky thing is knowing if you’re being ostracised, especially online.  You can see if someone ignores you in the physical world, but it’s much harder to do online.  How can you tell the difference between someone ignoring you, for instance, or simply having walked away from their computer? A lack of response is the outcome in both circumstances, but only one may qualify as ostracism.

This ambiguity can be particularly damaging because there is an easy tendency to think the worst of other people when we are unsure of their motives. This is especially common online because we lack the kind of social cues that are evident in real world communication.

All of which makes our online communication something of a minefield.

See Also: Why Ostracism Is So Damaging At Work

Have you ever been ostracised at work? How did you know that you had been ostracised? Did it affect your work? Your thoughts and comments below please...

 

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