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Digital ostracism in social business

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Digital ostracism in social business

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On external social networks, ostracism and bullying are sadly all too common, with the relative safety offered by online discussions often resulting in people saying things they perhaps would not do in person.  Whilst it’s nice to think that such behaviour wouldn’t happen in enterprise social networks, a new study suggests that not only does it happen, but it is also incredibly damaging.

The study, conducted by a team of Canadian researchers, found that when we’re at work, ostracism is often considerably more harmful to our sense of job satisfaction than harassment, despite the opposite generally thought the case.

What’s more, the researchers hypothesized that ostracism is considerably more common than harassment, and is thus a much bigger problem in the workplace.

They tested their hypothesis by surveying employees from a variety of industries on a range of behaviours that they were subsequently asked to rate for how socially inappropriate they were, and also how psychologically harmful they would be if they happened to them.  In addition, they were asked to report how much each behaviour would be punished if they occurred in their workplace.

The survey revealed that, interestingly, we tend to regard behaviours 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).”

So, with the perception of such events established, the researchers wanted to gauge how often they occurred.  They conducted another survey, this time asking participants to rate the extent to which they had experienced certain forms of treatment, together with how engaged they were at work.

As the researchers expected, ostracism was much more common than harassment at work, with a whopping 70% of participants revealing that they had experienced such a feeling in the past 6 months.  It also emerged that ostracism was much more likely to damage our employee engagement levels than harassment.

A final study then discovered that feelings of ostracism in the workplace could be linked to job turnover, with those who suffered from it found to be more likely to suffer from health problems, which ultimately led to them leaving their jobs.

Suffice to say, determining whether you are being ostracised online is rather tricky.  Whilst it’s easy to see when someone gives you the cold shoulder in physical interactions, it is much less certain if that is the case online.  For instance, the source could in fact be ignoring the target, but he or she could also have stepped away from the communication device, rendering the lack of response accidental.

Despite this ambiguity however, there is research to suggest that when there is a level of doubt over the motives of the other person, there is often a tendency to think the worst.  This may be because internet communication removes many of the most common social cues and therefore does not allow for a clear attribution of the source’s reason for ostracism.

Maybe something to think about in your own digital communications.

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