Mere presence of being in a bullying environment is more than enough for many employees to think about quitting, suggest researchers.
Canadian researchers have found that nurses not bullied directly, but who worked in an environment where workplace bullying occurred, felt a stronger urge to quit than those actually being bullied.
These findings on 'ambient' bullying have significant implications for organizations, as well as contributing a new statistical approach to the field.
To understand whether bullying in the work unit environment can have a negative impact on a worker's desire to remain in their organization, independent of their personal or direct experiences of workplace bullying, organizational behaviour and human resources experts from the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, Canada surveyed 357 nurses in 41 hospital units.
Their analysis of the survey results showed that targets of bullying were more likely to be thinking of leaving.
They also showed a statistically significant link between working somewhere where bullying was going on and a wish to leave.
Next, the researchers used statistical analysis to test the relationship between turnover intention and whether an individual was experiencing bullying directly.
They found that the positive relationship between work unit-level bullying and turnover intentions is stronger for those who rarely experienced direct bullying compared with those who are bullied often.
According to the author's, the study has wider implications in the field of human resources because they examined a broad, varied and generalized experience of bullying.
Further, because they relied on hierarchical linear modelling techniques, the researchers could accurately examine the simultaneous impacts of direct bullying and ambient bullying, showing each unique effect above and beyond that accounted for by the other.
"Of particular note is the fact that we could predict turnover intentions as effectively either by whether someone was the direct target of bullying, or by how much an environment was characterized by bullying," Marjan Houshmand, corresponding author of the study, said.
"This is potentially interesting because we tend to assume that direct, personal experiences should be more influential upon employees than indirect experiences only witnessed or heard about in a second-hand fashion. Yet our study identifies a case where direct and indirect experiences have a similarly strong relationship to turnover intentions," Houshmand said.
The authors theorize that although individuals may experience moral indignation at others being bullied, it is perceived as being even more unfair when others are bullied and they are not.
The study has been published in the journal Human Relations published.