‘Ambient’ bullying gives employees urge to quit

Escaping bullying: The simultaneous impact of individual and unit-level bullying on turnover intentions

From Human Relations

Merely showing up to work in an environment where bullying goes on is enough to make many of us think about quitting, this study suggests. 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. 357 nurses in 41 hospital units were surveyed and 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. 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 work contributes to a growing area of human relations study, which looks at how third party experiences affect individuals within organizations.


In this study, we investigate the simultaneous impact of, and interaction between, being the direct target of bullying and working in an environment characterized by bullying upon employees’ turnover intentions. Hierarchical linear modeling analysis of a sample of 41 hospital units and 357 nurses demonstrates that working in an environment characterized by bullying increases individual employees’ turnover intentions. Importantly, employees report similarly high turnover intentions when they are either the direct target of bullying or when they work in work units characterized by high bullying. Results also suggest that the impact of unit-level bullying is stronger on those who are not often directly bullied themselves.

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Article details
Marjan Houshmand⇓, Jane O’Reilly, & Angela Wolff (2012). Escaping bullying: The simultaneous impact of individual and unit-level bullying on turnover intentions Human Relations, 65 (7) : 10.1177/0018726712445100

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