This informal CPD article, ‘EDI Strategies: Challenging Bystander Behaviour’, was provided by Chiedza Ikpeh, Director of RARA Education Project. RARA is a Black and Female-led organisation that is committed to facilitating safe learning and working environments where Black and Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) can advance, connect, and thrive in UK society.
Origins of the term “bystander behaviour”
The term "bystander effect" was first coined in the 1960s after the infamous murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City. Despite her cries for help, none of the bystanders who witnessed the attack intervened or called for help. The case prompted psychologists Bibb Latane and John Darley to conduct a series of experiments exploring why people fail to help others in distress, leading to the development of the bystander effect theory.
Later research expanded on this theory and revealed the importance of considering social norms, group size, and perceived responsibility in understanding bystander behaviour (Staub, 1979; Staub, 2005). Today, the term "bystander behaviour" is commonly used to describe a similar phenomenon in which individuals remain passive in various situations.
What is bystander behaviour?
Bystander behaviour is a phenomenon in which individuals remain passive and uninvolved when they witness harmful or inappropriate behaviour by others. Research shows that bystander behaviour is prevalent in various contexts, including workplaces, and can perpetuate a toxic culture and create an unsafe environment for employees (Banyard, Moynihan, & Plante, 2007). This behaviour can take different forms, including ignoring or dismissing inappropriate behaviour, staying silent, or even joining in with the harmful behaviour. It stems from the belief that the individual is not responsible for taking action or intervening when they witness something wrong, leading to a lack of accountability and inaction (Latane & Darley, 1970).
What are the consequences of Bystander Behaviour?
Bystander behaviour in the workplace can have severe consequences for the victim, the perpetrator, and the workplace culture as a whole. For the victim, the failure of bystanders to intervene can lead to increased feelings of isolation, shame, and anxiety, as well as negative impacts on their mental health, productivity, and job satisfaction (Banyard, Moynihan, & Plante, 2007).