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May 29, 2014 11:55 AM EDT

Being Bullied At Work May Be Better Than Being Ignored


Being ignored at work may be worse for physical and mental well-being than harassment or bullying, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of British Columbia in Canada 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," Professor Sandra Robinson, co-author of the study and professor at Sauder School of Business, said in a statement. "But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they're not worthy of any attention at all."

For the study, researchers administered a series of surveys.

They found that people consistently rate workplace ostracism as less socially inappropriate, less psychologically harmful and less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment.

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.

Researchers also collected and examined data from 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," 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 findings will be published in the journal Organization Science.

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