We thought being harassed by the office bully was bad, but it turns out that overt harassment is better than having him ignore us completely.

I can barely keep up with the worst offensive actions of the workplace. I've written about office bullying in the past, but a recent study now indicates that bullying isn't the biggest problem we face. No, it now seems that ignoring creepy Kenny in IT is harder on him than if you just gave him a swirly in the toilet. Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business have discovered that “ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless, like they’re not worthy of any attention at all”, even when compared to workplace intimidation. They found that “people consistently rate workplace ostracism as less socially inappropriate, less psychologically harmful”, and therefore “less likely to be prohibited than workplace harassment”. I mean, really, who out there has an anti-ostracism policy in their employee manual? Their study 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”.

The researchers also looked at a previous employment survey, conducted by a different educational entity. That survey included data on “feelings of workplace isolation and harassment”. They then compared it to turnover rates three years after the survey was conducted. They found that “people who reported feeling ostracized were significantly more likely to have quit.”

There you have it. Creepy Kenny in IT is looking for a job, folks. Someone could save him by showing a little attention, even if that attention involves degrading him just a little bit more. At least he would know he was worthy of the harassment.

Professor Sandra Robinson, co-author of the study, tells us that “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”. Now apparently that victimization is being extended to those who no one pays any attention to.

As a side note, I love the phrase “workplace injustice”.  We have so many abusive factors today in our world of employment it now has its own term. We aren't paid enough, we aren't treated fairly, and we are bullied, harassed, discriminated against and abused. Now we are being ignored. It's amazing any of us bother to show up at all.

So it turns out we are victimizing people even when we leave them alone. Who knew? And what is an employer to do?

I suppose they could encourage more workplace interaction, like “Hug a Creepy Co-Worker Day” or “Take a Nerd to Lunch Day”. Maybe it could be something like “Bathe a Stinky Associate Day”. While even suggesting this will likely anger creepy, nerdy and stinky people everywhere, they should realize I am only trying to help. After all, creepy Kenny is people too.

Of course, I may be making matters worse, as I have made several references to the office bully being a “him”. Another study in the UK has determined that over one half of all women in the workplace are victims of bullying or harassment, and their antagonist is more likely to be another woman. I did not mean to offend, ostracize or degrade female bullies by not paying appropriate attention to them. And if “over one half” of women feel bullied or harassed, wouldn't this mean the majority of women are being harassed by a minority? And if the bullies are indeed the minority, are they then in a protected class?

Sheesh, trying to keep up with all this victimization and commensurate protection can make your head spin.

I think most employers at this point would welcome being ostracized, if means people would stop complaining about their working conditions and just let them go on about their day. Maybe employers should just stop showing up for work. Since they are the apparent root of most evil, it would be much easier on everyone if they do.

I will leave it to you to determine the best path. Here in my office, we make sure no one gets ignored or feels ostracized. In fact, I have to go. It is time for our daily conference room Kumbaya sing-along.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *