Workplace Ostracism More Distressing Than Harassment

Being ignored, excluded, or overlooked at work inflicts more damage on our physical and mental health than does being harassed, a new study shows.

Canadian researchers found that while most people consider workplace ostracism more benign than harassment, such exclusion is actually more likely to spur job dissatisfaction, health problems, and resignations.

This is a photo of a businessman with his head against a wall.Led by Jane O’Reilly of University of Ottawa, the research team theorized that ostracism is a more common experience at work than is harassment, and wanted to see how employees perceive those conditions.

They conducted an online survey of US workers from an array of industries. The participants were presented with a series of behaviors and asked to rate each. Specifically, they were asked how socially inappropriate and psychologically harmful they regarded each of the behaviors. They also rated the extent to which each action would be formally punished in their place of employment.

Participants consistently rated actions such as ignoring, excluding, or overlooking a co-worker as less egregious and prohibited than belittling, teasing, or gossiping about a co-worker.

“One is less likely to be seen as a bad person for ignoring or excluding someone than for openly insulting, yelling at, or threatening him or her,” the researchers note in a forthcoming issue of Organization Science. “Furthermore, one is less likely to be caught or reported for ostracizing someone and can more easily claim a lack of intent (e.g., being too busy to respond, forgetting to include someone).”

Next, the researchers conducted another survey of 1,300 full-time workers, asking them to rate the extent to which they had experienced certain forms of treatment, ranging from being avoided to being threatened with violence. The participants also rated their sense of belonging, personal well-being, and attitudes in their workplace.

As they predicted, ostracism was a more common experience than was harassment. More than 70% of respondents said they had experienced some form of exclusion in the prior six months, while only 48% reported being harassed or bullied during that time period. What’s more, ostracism was more likely to douse individuals’ sense of belonging and their organizational commitment and engagement compared with harassment.

The researchers also took 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. They found that, compared to victims of harassment, people who reported feeling ostracized were significantly more likely to have suffered health problems and to have ultimately quit their jobs.

O’Reilly and her colleagues in no way minimize the psychological harms created by workplace harassment. But they argue that managers should focus on preventing ostracism to the same extent they fight against the more overt forms of mistreatment captured by harassment.

“The impact of ostracism,” they write, “appears to be not only unique, but stronger, than the impact of harassment.”


The researchers should do some follow-up work on workplaces with satellite offices. It’s even easier to ostracize an employee who works alone hundreds of miles away from everyone else.

Ignoring someone in the workplace is wrong!

After reading this article I realized what was going on in my work place and why it somehow bothers me, as it turned out this (ostracism) may be what’s happening with some co-workers and me.

Thank you.

OMG, I’ve been going through this ostracism on the job ever since I was labeled a whistle blower almost 5 years ago. I thought I would be OK since the harassment has subsided. The stress has been unbearable and I just didn’t want to own the stress. Thank you for publishing this. It confirms a lot for me.

“The bosses” who engage in this behaviour often feel threatened by the targeted employee.

I went through this, I faced it and conquered it!it got so bad my boss joined in( that’s if he didn’t start it in the first place).trust me,me alone against 90% of the staff wasn’t easy.when I hurt I sat still and smiled they got confused,they ignored me I ignored them back,when they threw rude remarks I confronted them and we had a showdown….at last they all let me be and tagged me” dangerous” I have my peace!

Good job!

Thank you for your advice! I am going through this and it is so bad, that I am being offered lunch, and I am told to wait for lunch with them, and then they say “sorry, we saw you grab a salad, there’s no more food.” They will intentionally not give me meeting information. These older women told our HR Director that they’re too afraid to go up to me, because I’m snippy and rude. So, that is why they don’t bother telling me a meeting was cancelled, even though I needed to set it up with IT. I’m leaving, but these people are trying to get me fired. I left to lunch for one hour, and they told the workplace supervisor (who told me she is not my supervisor) that they thought I left for the whole day because my purse was gone… I asked my coworker what the confusion was as I told her where I was going to be, and she said she thought I was so sick that I just couldn’t send an email to anyone. My supervisor said she was just looking out to see if I was okay…. This is absolute bullshit. I’m desperate for your advice on how to ignore this constant bullying.

I am being socially ostracized in my workplace by several other employees. This only happens when the supervisor is out sick or on leave.
I have no idea why this is happening. It started with one person and then her buddies joined in.
It is so bad that other employees (ones not in this clique) have noticed it.
I am not anyone with any power in my office, either socially or economically. I have, to the best of my knowledge, done nothing of offense to anyone except refusing to dislike others that the group dislikes.
I am almost 65 but feel like I am in junior high school again because of the behavior of these people.
I am thinking of going to HR but don’t know what to say as it is hard to prove harassment by exclusion, especially when the boss is not there.
And this does hurt!

HR departments do not exist to help workers. The HR professionals are there to protect the company when management violates employment laws. When you tell an HR manager that you’ve been blatantly discriminated against the first thing that manager does is begin the process of protecting the company. In most situations, if you plan to file charges with the EEOC, you do need to report the issue. But don’t be fooled by the laws. It is difficult to get the EEOC to support your charges when the discrimination is flagrant. You have to have documentation that proves you were specifically discriminated against for one of the reasons listed at the EEOC site. No one has to be nice to you at work. Either leave or find a good therapist who can help you deal with the ostracism in a positive way. Meditate, ignore, act like the friendliest person on the planet regardless of how your coworkers behave. Don’t let it change you. Bring your happy self to the office every day and say hello as if you’ve never been ignored. Then forget about ostracism. It doesn’t exist in your life. It may exist in your coworkers small, ignorant, unhappy, mean lives. Be glad you are not one of them!

Yes, I can vouch for this. I told HR and I’m facing workplace retaliation, and people are allowed to yell at me. It simply made things worse, and people just act passive aggressively.

I empathize with you and with the pain this has caused you. I have experienced this in the year since I was hired into a new position. I have tried to excuse it away: that I am the new kid on the block (which no longer applies since Ive been here a year), that its maybe because Im slightly older than the offenders (will be 60 soon), but nothing I have come up with really holds water. I have gone out of my way to make eye contact, smile, be outgoing and friendly each and every time I encounter someone, to no avail. Its pretty bad here too: certain people will often visit my office and converse with everyone in it but me, I am NEVER included in lunch groups and gatherings are held outside the office that I am not invited to, plus I have to endure the aftermath of Facebook postings to confirm for me that everyone in my workplace attended and no one told me or invited me. It is wrong, hurtful and I can see nothing that is gained by excluding one person consistently for months and months and months. Hope it gets better for you. I guess all we can tell ourselves is that it’s them and not us. We can know we did everything we could do be let into the group we should have just naturally been part of. Good luck.

I understand completely what you are going through because I am going through the exact same thing. For the life of me, I cannot understand the kind of behaviour meted out to me for no obvious reason of mine. I cannot reach out to HR, they do not deal/entertain such kind of issues. Tried talking to my supervisor, who asked me to ignore this and perform better at work, in his words, in the end, that is all that matters. I agree with him but at times it is so difficult to see the way these so-called-colleagues ignore my presence. Mind you, these people at one point or time in their career have benefitted from my advice/help

It is soul destroying for the target & childish behaviour by grown adults.Arm yourself with knowledge about how these type of group bullys work.They plan to push the target out of a job.Arm yourself with legal knowledge.Learn all this from the internet.Keep this close to your chest though.This will help you personally feel empowered.See a councellor once a fortnight & document dates times who & what happens.See a doctor, leave it brief though.Only mention how the bullying at work is making you so unwell.Dont let the doctor talk you into taking to much leave.Not to many doctors care, most love the $$$.Stick it out at work as much as you can.That is what bully’s want , you to go away.Dont give them that pleasure.Dont let the bastards grind you down.They have already created damage regarding your reputation in the workplace & probably higher up.They are not only damaging you as a person but the companies name & reputation.When talking to a boss or HR always remember to mention how you respect the company you work for & feel these staff members are creating a negative impact on the workplace.I would like this addressed & stopped.Because I have a right to work in a safe environment.Let HR know this negative behaviour from the other staff toward you & it is not acceptable & it is creating major problems.Theres no magic wand but what ever you do dont give up, fight back.You deserve respect & an income just like them.Believe in you.big hug from me.

This is a true illness, caused by a control freek !

Manipulater and a bully, thee said as an inferior personality.

It hinders production, braking down the moral of co-workers and cause major devision.

I work in a small independent company and I am the only woman. there are 2 men. I am always in on time, never miss a day. I have been depressed lately because I have kept inside how I feel about being totally ignored and in my opinion, treated like crap. I work in silence not being included at any time on anything. I work hard, I am a senior citizen. I get no benefits at all, nothing. I can’t handle it anymore and I won’t. have to find another. hen I brought up how I feel about how I am treated, I was yelled out. turned it around making me look I was crazy. I am so pissed.

I am going through the same thing and believe other people in my office are experiencing varying degrees of this as well. As mentioned above office mates have noticed and have commented that it’s not fair. What can you do about it if it stems from the operations manager or above? How would someone go about a dressing this problem while maintaining their employment. I was thinking about contacting a media program that could expose this tactic like 16×9 here in Canada. What makes this even worse is the agency is a human services organization. The organization is great to work for however it seems to be the one individual that has the authority and abuses it in this way( as well as others). I think it might be to protect her own feelings of inadequacy.

in my 3 years of stay in my company, i had a fair share of experience being ostracized but it didnt kept me from achieving my goal and have saved money enough for me to sustain after resigning until getting a new found job thereafter.. I did persevere inspite of being unacknowledged. I did receive commendations from guest but never been complimented nor acknowledged for the good job being done. Yes, it is a powerful scheme for anybody would like to inflict hurt to anyone just by being ostracized.

Thank you for this article! I was started to think I was being paranoid. I am ostracized at my job by EVERYONE including management. I have found it hard to focus.

ostracized in va, I work for the VA is that where you are at?

Couldn’t care less about being ostracized at work. There are several people that don’t speak with me here and that’s the way I like it. Quiet, undisturbed, no gossip, no chatter. I have a couple of office buddies that I hang with, otherwise, I do my work, put in my eight hours and call it a day.

Oh my God! This is a thing?! I am ostracized by entire organization. It seems like it has to have been known by many and/or planned. It’s like I got on some organization-wide Black List. I’m trying to stay 18 more months to get to min retirement with walk away medical -n retirement is nearly zip, so it’s only for the medical. Seems like a good plan, medical and retire early. I went over the edge today and feel I am having a nervous breakdown, right now. I don’t know what this is. And I google and see this. Oh my, I have to do some research, understand this, figure out a plan to talk to or sue my employer.

I’m relieved to read this article, as it goes to show that it’s not all in my head.

As for you, I wish you all the best! Your situation does sound very difficult but I’m rooting for you to succeed! Be strong!

I am 6 months in at my new company and have noticed some strange occurrences. The owner of this company is a woman and has a very vocal issue with hiring women due to being “office distractions”. My boss, a man who reports to the owner, hired me during a time when the owner was out on leave. When she returned, I was there. Since starting, two of my coworkers, both male, have been pulled aside and told not to associate with me because I am a distraction. The best part – I was hired to be the social/engagement manager and bring our people together. The owner is pulling these men aside and blaming me for distracting them, when that is far from the case. We don’t go to lunch together anymore as rumors began flying. I am also engaged and getting married in a few months, so no funny business is going on. I don’t understand how I’m suppose to do my job and “engage the employees” if my coworkers are being told not to talk to me. is this right? I will add that the owner has told me that in the past women have sued her due to discrimination, she laughed it off. Is the same thing happening to me? Also, neither the owner nor my boss have brought these issues to my personal attention – they just go around me. What;s going on?

I have been leading music in a large retirement community for a year and a half. I love the residents there and the ministry was a blessing to me and them also, since I am a very energetic, outgoing and joyful person. But not all were happy with my presence…I sensed resentment from two people I should have been close to in the same music ministry. I was often ostracized, ignored, given silent treatment, stabbed with subtle insults, some being blunt and obvious. The chaplain knew those two from before I came…
He never took time to get to know me, and it seemed that his attitude was changing, he even started to throw at me some “smart” remarks…I immediately knew who influenced him….
But it was him that desperately needed someone to lead the music, since he was overloaded with work and did not have know-how about leading the music. It was on his pursuing, insisting, even pleading that I accepted the assignment….
In the year and a half I’ve lead the music ministry I called him couple of times and shared my burden with him, expressing my feelings to him, telling him I can’t work in this kind of toxic environment. I trusted him as a man of God to have discernment and to deal with the problem in right way.
Then he turned on me one day, and went of on me, blaming me for all the problems, saying that I was the trouble maker, and that he wants everything to run smooooth(he stretched the “smooooooth” word), with no waves…
And that was the end of it. If that doesn’t blow one away, than I don’t know what will.
I have found out that in this cruel, ugly world people will do you the way they want, no matter how kind you are… and you just have to toughen up, drop them, and walk away. Let them deal with their problems and find another dummy to carry their load, to be cussed out and talked to like a mutt-dog ! As for the preacher, and his sermons… he can preach to the walls.. I have you-tube and choice of whom I will listen to. 🙂

I have been ostracised in a company I have worked for 12 years. It has been going on for 2 yes now and noone will tell me why or what I have done wrong.

I can’t handle it anymore am strested out cry want to die. Can’t take anymore

Caroline, you must have a lot of good qualities to hold this position for 12 years. Maybe it’s time for a promotion. Apply for a higher level position with another company. Once you get a better offer, cut your ties with this company and move on so that you may enjoy your days at work.

I have been ignored, treated with contempt, excluded, given big jobs with impossible time lines, given jobs that were ridiculously elementary. It’s time to resign and find a job where my self worth is not reduced daily.

Ostracism is the subtle form of apathy, and apathy is a form of hatred, in case people didn’t know. Humanity is being undone in many ways, not just the bullying taught in school by teachers heavy set to ‘break students’ and shame free thinkers; it is the brainwashing on TV in popular shows, where verbal abuse or apathy is paired with laugh tracks to convince people the abuse they just saw, was some how funny. It is not. Ostracism is a form of work place abuse because it is meant to isolate and estrange a target for apathy abuse, being treated like you don’t exist. This is the new, ‘I didn’t do anything’ form of workplace abuse and is championed by every brainwashed hater in the workplace. The best defense, DON’T CARE! Seriously, don’t care, that’s what the abusers want, they WANT you to care. The fact that people are fast becoming sadists, with the small leverage they have in a workplace designed for unicorn hoop jumping, is an indication that that workplace, that company, that group of people working there; are ending their best before shelf date sooner than later and you should probably invent a great reason why you had a gap in your employment when going for another job, because your former work place with defamatory and slander you for leaving before they have the joy or breaking you down to the level of misery they had hoped to inflict on you. Too bad, the success of the workplace, is managements responsibility, and if they can’t facilitate that with a fair and cooperative workplace… leave and don’t even tell them why. They call to ask if you’re coming to work, tell them you’ll be in tomorrow, and don’t go in. Once the owners start to see that their abuse will get them nothing but the same bad treatment delivered in kind. Remember one important fact: YOU DON’T OWE THEM/THE WORKPLACE ANYTHING for the job you got, remember, it’s ‘work’ and they pay you for it, it’s not the delusion they tried to sell you, about how great it is to work there. There is NOTHING great about having to work like a slave anywhere, the added abuse makes it a ‘walk away’ situation. This is fast becoming the workplace deal breaker in most work forces today; they have a dysfunctional social set, and they are manage by ignorant idiots who couldn’t rub two useful sociological theories, or human resource management tactics together in one hand! The ‘corporation’ and it’s artificial ‘society’ of workers, is probably the most destructive force against humanity we have come to know in Earth’s history, and will probably result in the end of Earth’s history.

I am in recovery and five years sober. My co workers and administration all know unfortunately. They love to share gossip about my situation. I am excluded by my coworkers and they talk terrible about me, which seems to get back to me by someone who thinks this information is helpful. It is so difficult to work in this environment. My administration overlooks me and ignores me as well. Unfortunately, I need the money so I am stuck. There aren’t many jobs out there safe enough to move to without risking my famil’s security. I am just very sad there at times but I do my best to focus on family. The most important area of my life.

After reading this article It’s nice to finally know I’m not totally insane in thinking that my coworkers are ignoring me. For the past few years I’ve noticed I’ve been less and less involved in the projects I create, As the senior architectual designer that’s definitely not good. This is my 15th year at my firm and will most likely be my last. I have tried to ignore it for the past several months but it has become unbearable to deal with on a daily basis. Today’s project meeting was the last straw for me, Having a coworkers straight out lie to me in front of my boss to cover his ass is more than I will stand for. Time to tune up the resume

Thank you for writing this article. This confirms that I’m not completely crazy in my thinking. I’m in my fifth year at my job and have recently switched to a different department. After four months at this new position, I recently received a written warning for a laundry list of complaints accumulated over these past months.

I was a victim at work. The manager didn’t see it, he was actually part of the problem. I ended up taking early retirement as no one wanted to help. I had an out. Most people don’t.

I was being given a token of recognition and a letter for 30 years of service from the general manager, but the manager didn’t tell anyone and the ‘presentation’ took place in the tea room with only one other staff member present. I felt so disrespected. I also have been ostracised by management in general and it is certainly far worse than bullying but I am staying just to annoy them. I can take early retirement but am resisting Also I love what I do I just don’t like the way I am treated.

2/28/18: 2/28/18: The office has always been a building where gossip, hatred and backstabbing are normal and seems to be accepted. The longer you’re employed the more likely you realize your coworkers are not your friends and you learn to keep to yourself. Those in leadership positions have been known to welcome chaos and the slander of employees; even joining in. I have always gotten along with my coworkers and enjoyed them as we all had good sense of humor. Since we got a new boss seven years ago, we have had a huge amount of turnover. Some younger people were hired to replace experience, and now my unit is toxic. Long story short, a bad supervisor and sociopathic psychopath coworker equals character assignation and alienation of me. Gossip finally made it’s way to me and someone told me what was being said about me behind my back and it is atrocious. I have been ostracized for simply appearing to be friends with a coworker with an odd personality, and she happened to be a whistle blower on a discrimination case against our supervisor, and the psychopath coworker lied to the supervisor about me and the boss has been holding a grudge for 2 1/2 years. Two years ago my boss said something to me about the whistle blower “I hope YOU don’t go to the dark side.” One of her drive by comments. Now if she said it to me about the whistle blower, she said something similar to others about me. A bit of an underhanded, covert way of the boss saying stay way from me or else. What other manipulation has she used? I get why my coworkers don’t want to be seen talking to me. Don’t want the boss hating you. So After 16 years at my job, I will be leaving. It is unfortunate that I am 50 yrs old and only 5 years from being eligible to retire. There is no recourse. The Employee Relations Dir is best friends with the offender.

I had to quit a good paying job because of being targeted by 3 viscous, mean spirited ladies who didnt like the color of my skin. They would purposely leave me out and ignore me. Or either make snide remarks to me. I finally had it and walked out. Best decision I made, although Im now unemployed. I do have a fear of this happening again, which is causing me anxiety.

I go through this daily. I am still the “new kids” on the block of a finance department of four people. I am working in the public area and he always goes down to chew the fat with them. My two co-workers offer to “help” me if I get overwhelmed due to traffic flow out here, but they only offer when the boss is here….as if to imply I can’t handle it. They all chat a lot down in their offices and I have a very mental job with a lot of calculations to do, but when they re-shuffled they put me at the counter. If it weren’t for the proximity to my home, that I know my own job very well and it’s a stable position, I would leave. They are pleasant enough when necessary………

I thought I had found the job of my dreams. I absolutely LOVED it and was very good at it! My co-workers liked me, life was great; until our promotions director showed an interest in me, then rumors flew and so did half of my so called friends. It didn’t take long for the other half to jump on board, to the extend of making fun of my physical appearance, and my lack of ability to do my job correctly. This started about a year and a half ago. I did start dating the PD, after all he was the only friend I had left there and everyone had us doing way more than dating long before that. The issue is, he still is extremely friendly with all of these people, even though they shred every ounce of self confidence I have, he will build them up and go about things as normal. Until he gets shunned, one time of that and his world crumbles. He hates how it feels for himself, but doesn’t seem to mind if people do it to me. This just makes me feel even more worthless and less valuable. I can barely function some days. Hearing everyone laughing and bantering, building each other up… it is painful that I am treated this way for no real reason and no one seems to care. I love my job, the people make it impossible. I don’t know what to do. On top of it— I am so mad at my now boyfriend for not having my back every time something happens there.


I have been ostracized at almost every single stage of my life, be it workplace or whatever. Reading such comments that other people go through such things to is actually healing to me. Thanks!

This happened to me quite recently.
A specific customers, parts were not sent on time and the delivery/ sale was missed.
Naturally and understandably my boss was livid. We had meetings and thorough investigations into how it happened.
It turned out to be a lower level supplier issue.
Which meant that no matter what I did I would have failed. Which I did…Hard.
Anyway about a week later there was some lean training to be had which the entire companies staff were put through… All except me and it was simply my boss putting the stops on my training. It still plays on my mind. As my boss can directly affect my career so negatively and decisively. I feel I am balanced on a knife edge.. perform or be destroyed.

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