Who speaks up when harassment is in the air? A within-person investigation of ambient harassment and voice behavior at work

Allison S. Gabriel, Nitya Chawla, Christopher C. Rosen, Young Eun Lee, Joel Koopman, Elena M. Wong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


It is clear that sexual harassment has a profound impact on the victims who are targets of these egregious behaviors. Comparably less is known, however, about how other members of the organization react affectively and behaviorally when these acts transpire, and who has stronger reactions to such events. In the current research, we draw from the sexual harassment and vicarious mistreatment literatures to develop a theoretical model that considers how bystanders react behaviorally to ambient harassment-the experience of overhearing sexist and disparaging gender-related comments without necessarily being the direct target of such remarks-by enacting various types of voice behaviors at work via feelings of fear and anger. We also explore whether certain work conditions-namely an organization's tolerance for sexual harassment-attenuate such reactions, and how gender of the witness to ambient harassment may shape the effects. Across an experimental investigation (Study 1) and an experience sampling study (Study 2), we find that exposure to ambient harassment is positively related to feelings of fear and anger. In Study 2, we further unpack the differential behavioral consequences associated with ambient harassment, finding that while anger is positively related to voice after witnessing ambient harassment, fear negatively contributed to voice behaviors at work. Interestingly, these effects were further exacerbated for employees who worked in an organization tolerant of sexual harassment and for men (vs. women). Combined, our results shed light on how, and when, employees can feel empowered to enact voice behaviors after experiencing ambient harassment. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2024 APA, all rights reserved).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-60
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Applied Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2024
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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