“The greater exposure a person had to bullying, both directly and indirectly, the more negative their perception of the work environment was,” said Dr Helena Cooper-Thomas, a senior lecturer in psychology at the University of Auckland.
Dr Cooper-Thomas, who will present the findings at a conference in Brisbane this week, says little research has been done so far on the effects of bullying on witnesses.
“Yet nearly 10 per cent of respondents said they had witnessed bullying,” she said.
“Often people tend to think of bullying as being just between individuals – a bully and a target.
“But our research shows that people who observe bullying are also affected, and those who both observe bullying and are targets of bullies are the worst affected and receive a double whammy effect.
“When you think of the ripple effect across a workforce from all those who are touched by bullying, the impact is significant.”
She said leadership style and organisational climate also had an effect on the incidence of bullying.
“Those who experienced bullying tended to come from organisations where there was less constructive leadership and a more relaxed laissez-faire management style,” she said.
“Constructive leadership negates bullying, which indicates a greater emphasis needs to be put on leadership training to ensure leaders can promote a positive work climate and they have strong processes for the oversight of their workforce.”
The study involved 1733 participants from 36 organisations across the health, education, hospitality and travel sectors in New Zealand.
The ninth biennial Industrial and Organisational Psychology Conference is being held in Brisbane from Thursday, June 23.