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Is It Worse to Be Bullied or Ignored at Work?

Woman at office door looking at man

Workplace bullying is a common experience. The Workplace Bullying Institute shows that 27% of Americans have been bullied in the workplace at some point, and 7% have been bullied in the last year. Mental health experts continue to explore the psychological effects of bullying, and anti-bullying campaigns have increasingly raised public awareness about harassment at work.

A new study, though, suggests that workplace bullying isn’t the worst experience people can have at work. While most people believe that being ignored is less problematic than being bullied, this study has found that people who feel neglected at work actually experience more trauma or emotional distress than those who experience bullying.

Workplace Ostracism and Bullying

To determine the effects of workplace ostracism and bullying, researchers actually conducted three separate studies. The first study surveyed workers on their views about bullying and exclusion, and found that workers took workplace ostracism less seriously than bullying.

The second study asked workers about their experiences with workplace ostracism and bullying. The survey found that workers who felt ignored or isolated at work reported more negative attitudes toward their jobs, a lower overall sense of well-being, and a decreased sense of belonging at work. A third study administered the same survey a second time to a different group of workers and arrived at the same results.

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Workplace Bullying Still a Problem

The study was specifically designed to measure the effects of isolation at work, so should not be taken as evidence that workplace bullying is not a big deal. Instead, this research sheds light on the many ways that troubled work relationships can affect psychological well-being. For some workers, ostracism may even be a form of bullying, such as when a group of employees decides to target a co-worker by ignoring him or her. Researchers have long known that social isolation is psychologically damaging, and previous research has hinted at negative health effects for people who feel excluded.


  1. Effects of ostracism are a health concern. (2005, July 28). Retrieved from http://www.news-medical.net/news/2005/07/28/12082.aspx
  2. O’Reilly, J., Robinson, S. L., Berdahl, J. L., & Banki, S. (2014). Is negative attention better than no attention? The comparative effects of ostracism and harassment at work. Organization Science.
  3. Workplace bullying: U.S. national prevalence. (2014, April 8). Retrieved from http://www.workplacebullying.org/2014/04/08/2014-prevalence/

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  • Marie June 3rd, 2014 at 4:41 PM #1

    i suppose that in some ways intentionally leaving someone out could be just another form of bullying them.

  • Sally June 4th, 2014 at 1:47 PM #2

    Unfortunately I have endured both social isolation as well as bullying in the workplace at different points in my professional career and honestly neither one feels very good. They both make you not only secaond guess your own talents and abilities but they leave you without ever feeling as if you can get close to anyone with whom you work. The workplace can also be a very catty place to be and often people take out their own insecurities on you if they are feeling threatened by you. This could come in the form of outright bullying or they may feel the need to turn others against you so that you have no friends there. No matter what they are doing, it is not fun to go theough either sort of experience.

  • kendra June 6th, 2014 at 4:23 AM #3

    If you have to do it then just ignore me. I don’t come to work to make friends.

  • Peter June 9th, 2014 at 4:04 PM #4

    Good grief we are all adults hopefully working together so why would we even have to worry about any of this in the first place. I would hope that the poeple I am working with are reasonable and common sense adults and not idiots who want to hold some kind of sick power over people that they have a job with.

    If this isn’t the case then this is not something that I am goingto stand by and take no matter how much I love my job. Someone is going to be reported and held accountabel for any kind of juvenile action like that.

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