Exclusion – the insidious bullying tactic

If an employee is being bullied at work, it is likely they wish their tormentors would just leave them alone. However, under Australian legislation, being ignored by your colleagues can actually be considered bullying and could be more damaging than more overt forms of bullying or harassment, according to recent research.

Bullying can take several different forms – psychological, physical or even indirect, like exclusion. This form of bullying can sometimes be subtle, which means it’s not always easy to spot and can be harder to define or quantify.

It can even come from managers and leaders, the people who should actively seek to manage such behaviours. Acts like omitting individuals from team meetings or events, excluding them from work related social activities, or even group discussions. Once a pattern forms, the impact on the employee and the broader team can be significant and can have a serious effect on your company culture, absenteeism and productivity.

Commonly it plays out in simple but insidious ways.

“When you walk up to the water cooler, people go silent; you sit alone in the lunchroom; you feel like people are giving you the silent treatment,” says Professor Sandra Robinson, whose research for the University of British Columbia’s Sauder School of Business looked at the impacts for organisations of ostracism.

“The variety is endless, but the sense is that you’re not receiving back what you normally would expect in a given situation.”

Research more recently by Ernst & Young showed those who feel like they belong are “3.5 times more likely to contribute to their full, innovative potential.”

Therefore bullying by exclusion can not only take an emotional toll, but it also affects job performance. These repercussions often lead to missed opportunities for bonuses, promotions, and career advancement.

There are a number of proactive steps that can be taken.
1. Ensure that appropriate policies are in place and that they are explicit on all forms of bullying.
2. Regularly communicate those policies and your behavioural expectations to your workforce.
3. Provide bullying and harassment training to all staff, including senior management.
4. Provide a safe space and method to report bullying (observed or experienced).
5. Have appropriate procedures in place to address bullying when identified.
6. Ensure that leaders within the organisation (formal ones and informal ones) model the appropriate behaviours.

The one thing you should not do as an organisation, in the face of bullying and harassment of any kind, is nothing. Hoping the problem will resolve itself or go away is likely to actually cost your business in more ways than one. Employers can also access help from the Fair Work Ombudsman website.

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