Workers who witness bullying can have a stronger urge to quit than those who experience it firsthand, according to a study by the University of British Columbia.
“We tend to assume that people experiencing bullying bear the full brunt. However, our findings show that people across an organization experience a moral indignation when others are bullied that can make them want to leave in protest,” said Sandra Robinson, professor at UBC's school of business and co-author of the study published in the current edition of the journal Human Relations.
Data used for the study were collected through two surveys of a sample of 357 nurses in 41 units of a large Canadian health authority. Prior research shows that bullying is prevalent in the health-care industry, especially among nurses.
The surveys used a series of questions to assess the level of bullying in each nursing unit, as well as the individual experience of bullying of each respondent. The researchers then captured respondents’ intentions to quit their jobs in units where bullying was pervasive, asking them to rate their positive or negative reactions toward statements like, “If I had a chance, I would change to some other organization.”
Findings show that all respondents who experience bullying, either directly or indirectly, reported a greater desire to quit their jobs than those who did not. However, the results also indicate that people who experienced it as bystanders in their units or with less frequency reported wanting to quit in even greater numbers.
Prior research shows that intentions to quit are directly correlated with employees leaving their jobs. However, Robinson warns that even if employees stay in their roles, an organization’s productivity can suffer severely if staff members have an unrealized desire to leave.
“Managers need to be aware that the behaviour is pervasive and it can have a mushrooming effect that goes well beyond the victims,” said Robinson. “Ultimately bullies can hurt the bottom line and need to be dealt with quickly and publicly so that justice is restored to the workplace.”