Being Ignored in the Workplace Worse than Being Bullied

By Stephen M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D.

Most people grew up hearing that “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” But a new study out of Canada suggests that being ignored in the workplace is actually worse on an employee’s mental and physical well-being than being bullied.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business surveyed 1,300 employees and managers and then published their results this

spring in the journal

Organization Science

  1. Professor Sandra Robinson, co-author of the study said, “We’ve been taught that ignoring someone is socially preferable... But ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

Ostracism, however, is not as easy to define as bullying or sexual harassment. Robinson defines ostracism as when people fail to socially engage an individual in a way that would normally be expected in the situation. An employee may experience this exclusion in numerous ways: failing to get invited to meetings they should attend, walking up to the water cooler to find that people go silent, sitting alone in the lunchroom, or just generally feeling that co-workers are giving them the silent treatment.
One of the study’s interesting findings, however, is that people generally found ostracism as more socially acceptable, less likely to get the offender in trouble, and less harmful than bullying. Unfortunately, to the victims of this exclusion, the study reveals that the impact is actually greater than being bullied. “People say to be ignored and invisible at work is extremely painful,” Robinson said.

Employees who feel ostracized are significantly more likely to feel greater job dissatisfaction, experience health problems, and are far more likely to quit. Researchers also compared the results of the surveys with turnover rates three years after the surveys were conducted and “found that people who reported feeling ostracized were significantly more likely to have quit.”

Although most people don’t consider it so,

ostracism is indeed a form of bullying

  1. “But abuse it 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.”
In another recent poll by Zogby for the

Workplace Bullying Institute

, nearly one third of Americans reported suffering abusive conduct at work. This feeling of ostracism needs to be taken just as seriously as verbal and sexual harassment in the workplace and needs to be incorporated into workplace bullying policies.

If you are feeling harassed, bullied, or ignored at work, please don’t hesitate to contact me at

or at my website