What if your boss abuses not only you, but everyone else in your work group? Will that make you feel better or worse?
It turns out you are likely to feel better (or at least less bad) than if your boss (or coworkers) abuses only you. Duffy et al. (2006) found that when a focal employee is mistreated, if his/her coworkers also report being mistreated, that focal employee is less likely to be depressed, less likely to quit, and more likely to be satisfied at work than when the focal employee is singled out.
Duffy et al. reasoned that employees who are singled out for mistreatment make sense of their mistreatment differently than employees who are mistreated along with the rest of their colleagues. Employees who are singled out perceive that the perpetrator could have acted differently if they wanted to. That is, since the perpetrator mistreated them but not others, the perpetrator must know how to behave properly. In this circumstance, targets are likely to perceive the mistreatment as an injustice because the perpetrator could have acted differently, but chose not to. In contrast, when a perpetrator mistreats everyone in the work group, focal employees perceive that perpetrator as unable to control the mistreatment (i.e., the perpetrator could not have acted differently). Therefore, targets are relatively less likely to perceive the mistreatment as an injustice.
It’s a neat albeit a somewhat odd finding. Fairness in bullying – when a bully mistreats everyone equally.