Research: Office silent treatment ‘worse than bullying’

Office silent treatment 'worse than bullying'

June 5, 2014

Ignoring co-workers may have a worse effect than actual office bullying, according to new research.

A report from the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business reveals social exclusion in the workplace is more likely to lead to people leaving their job – or even health problems – than outright bullying.

Professor Sandra Robinson, the study’s co-author, said: “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.

“But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

The research was based on a number of workplace surveys. Initial findings revealed people rated workplace ostracism as “less socially inappropriate, less psychologically harmful and less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment”.

However, the second survey discovered that those shunned at work 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”.

“There is a tremendous effort underway to counter bullying in workplaces, which is definitely important. But abuse is not always obvious,” added 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.”

With boardrooms across the UK beginning to seriously grasp the financial nettle of positive employee engagement, the signs of a bad company culture are now setting off louder alarm bells than ever before.

In fact, it is heartening to hear strategies are being developed to help those working in emotionally challenging industries – like exterminators, funeral and cemetery workers, or toilet cleaners.

Professor Blake Ashforth, from Arizona State University, told HC Online that line managers in so-called “dirty jobs” are being tasked with helping build employee engagement.

He said: “One strategy is to teach employees skills to cope with the negative reactions of family, friends, or the public.

“For example, when jobs involve physically distasteful tasks, like funeral or cemetery workers, or those in aged care, employees may be able to remind themselves that the work they do is important, that their work benefits people in times of need.

“In general, focusing employees’ attention on the benefit that their work brings to society or clients can help employees to maintain a positive self-image.”