Merideth J. Thompson 01

Meredith J. Thompson, associate professor of management at Utah State's Jon M. Huntsman School of Business, published research in early July finding that a high rate of employees report experiences of ostracism at work, and these experiences negatively affect their family life. Thompson conducted the research in collaboration with colleagues at at Baylor, Temple and Texas State.

Feeling left out or overlooked at work causes more harm than being on the receiving end of abusive behavior, according to recent research conducted by Utah State associate professor of management and associate dean of academic affairs Merideth Thompson, in cooperation with researchers at Baylor, Temple and Texas State.

This experience of isolation, which the researchers call ostracism, isn’t a small issue that a handful of people experience at work. The researchers found that the majority of workers — 66% — experience some form of it.

“When a person feels ostracized at work, he or she is even more likely to feel emotionally exhausted by their job than someone who has experienced really egregious behaviors like sexual harassment or an abusive boss,” Thompson said in a university press release.

“If your supervisor yells at you, at least it signals you’re worth the time and energy. But feeling unnoticed in meetings or being the only person sitting alone in the office lunchroom signals you aren’t,” Thompson continued. “You begin to wonder what’s wrong with you or whether you’re intentionally being overlooked.”

When people experience forms of ostracism at work, the resulting emotional exhaustion bleeds into family life.

Almost 70% of people who reported experiencing ostracism at work also reported being burned out at home.

Spouses of these workers didn’t just notice their fatigue and distress. They were also on the receiving end of it — 82% of spouses reported that these workers showed undermining behaviors at home, such as acting unpleasant after work and taking their frustrations out on family members, the release said.

Since 66% of workers reported ostracism, and 82% of their spouses reported undermining behaviors at home, this means that more than half of families — 54% — are likely affected by people experiencing ostracism at work.

Spouses reported feeling burned out by family life at a slightly higher rate than the ostracized workers, with 70% of them reporting burnout.

“We’ve learned through this study and others that work and family life are completely interwoven; when a person feels ostracized at work, it’s contagious,” Thompson said.

Organizations can prevent ostracism by including behaviors like collegiality and respect in recruiting, training and performance review practices, Thompson said in the release.

This research was published in an article titled “The cost of being ignored: Emotional exhaustion in the work and family domains” in the Journal of Applied Psychology in early July.

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