Early warning signs
A recent article published in Organisation Sciences suggests that being ignored at work is worse for physical and mental well-being than harassment or bullying.
Employees who claimed to have experienced ostracism are 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.
In the original article, entitled ‘ The Comparative effects of Ostracism and harassment at work” researchers found that while many employees consider ostracism less harmful than bullying, feeling excluded is significantly more likely to lead to job dissatisfaction, quitting and health problems.
An opportunity to create competitive advantage
More than ever, leaders and organisations are under increasing pressure to address mental and emotional wellbeing challenges in the workplace, and identifying early warning signs and behaviours leading to social isolation is pivotal.
Leaders who create psychologically safe, fit and thriving workplaces are attuned to this responsibility as they endeavour to build cultures characterised by environments of high trust and cooperation.
They recognise that this is an opportunity for creating competitive advantage, and lead with both care and consequence to create cultures where:
- Employees experience a real sense of belonging
- The community feels safe enough to show vulnerability in their pursuit of personal growth
- It ok to feel incomplete or inadequate if you are still still included, accepted and valued
Managing covert behaviours
Whilst overt bullying is observable, there are many examples of covert bullying in the workplace.
Psychologist Meredith Fuller in her book “Working with mean girls” differentiates between overt ‘bullying’ and more covert ‘bitchiness’, identifying 7 covert archetypes of bitchiness.
In their 2014 study, the researchers of the Organisation Sciences article argue that ostracism is even more harmful than bullying.
For many employees, the workplace represents their only sense of community, and it would appear that the behaviours listed in their research findings go a long way to undermining psychological safety.
Among a long list of research findings, behaviours that stood out when it comes to ostracism include:
- Being ignored.
- Others left the area when you entered.
- Your greetings have gone unanswered at work.
- You involuntarily sat alone in a crowded lunchroom at work.
- Being shut out of the conversation by others.
- Others at work treated you as if you weren’t there.
- Not being invited or asked if you wanted anything when others went out for a coffee break.
- Ignored or failed to respond to your communication.
- Treated you as nonexistent.
- Excluded you from important work activities or meetings.
- Kept information from you that you should have known.
Organisations who are ahead of the curve when it comes to creating Psychologically Safe workplaces, exhibit a level of cultural maturity where such behaviours are not tolerated, where peers take care of the psychological safety of peers, and vulnerability is viewed as a key catalyst for growth and applauded as such.