Employees that witness workplace bullying are just as likely to be impacted by it as those who are bullied, with such behaviour occurring most commonly in businesses with less constructive leadership.
Senior Lecturer of Psychology at the University of Auckland, Dr. Helena Cooper-Thomas studied whether greater exposure to bullying is associated with a work environment characterised by poor leadership and perceived cohesion as well as
poorer individual wellbeing and work attitudes including strain and intentions to leave.
Cooper-Thomas compared four groups: non-bullied, observers, targets and those who were both observers and targets of bullying.
“In terms of effects we found there was a hierarchy, ranging from those who didn’t experience or witness bullying who were the least affected to those who both witnessed and were the targets of bullying, who were most negatively affected,” she said.
Of those studied, non-bullied reported the most positive perceptions of the work environment, followed by those who observed bullying, then those who were targets of bullying. People who were both the targets of and witnesses to bullying reported the least positive perceptions of the work environment.
“The greater exposure a person had to bullying both directly and indirectly the more negative their perception of the work environment was. Greater exposure to bullying was also associated with lower wellbeing, and poorer work attitudes,” Cooper-Thomas added.
Very little research has been done on the impact of workplace bullying, and still close to 10% of respondents said they had witnessed bullying. Leadership style and organisational climate was also found to have an effect on whether bullying occurred.
“Those who experienced bullying tended to come from organisations where there was less constructive leadership and a more relaxed laissez-faire management style,” Cooper-Thomas said.
Leadership plays an important role in bullying culture, she said, with constructive leadership negating bullying.
“… which indicates a greater emphasis needs to put on leadership training to ensure leaders can promote a positive work climate and they have strong processes for the oversight of their workforce.”