EDI Strategies: Challenging Bystander Behaviour

EDI Strategies: Challenging Bystander Behaviour

27 Apr 2023

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).

Negative impacts of bystander behaviour

For the perpetrator, bystander behaviour can reinforce their belief that their actions are acceptable and that they can continue their harmful behaviour without any consequences. It can also create a culture of impunity, where individuals feel that they can engage in harmful behaviour without fear of repercussions. Finally, for the workplace culture, bystander behaviour can lead to a toxic environment, where bullying, harassment, and discrimination are normalized. This, in turn, can lead to decreased employee morale, increased turnover, and decreased productivity (DiFonzo & Bordia, 2007).

How can we challenge Bystander Behaviour?

To challenge bystander behaviour in the workplace, employers need to create a culture of accountability and empowerment that encourages employees to speak out against inappropriate behaviour. This can be achieved through the following steps:

1. Training and Education Programs: Providing training and education programs for employees that focus on identifying and challenging bystander behaviour has been shown to be effective in promoting intervention (Banyard et al., 2007). These programs can teach employees how to recognise inappropriate behaviour, how to intervene safely and effectively, and how to support victims.

2. Creating a Reporting System: Employers can create a reporting system that allows employees to report inappropriate behaviour safely and confidentially, which can encourage employees to speak out and seek help (Grubb & Turner, 2012). This also provides employers with the information they need to take action against perpetrators.

3. Leading by Example: Employers can lead by example by taking a zero-tolerance approach to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace. This can send a strong message to employees that such behaviour will not be tolerated and that everyone has a responsibility to challenge it (Brewster & Railsback, 2017).

4. Empowering Employees: Employers can empower employees to challenge inappropriate behaviour by providing them with the tools and resources they need to do so. This can include offering support to victims, providing training on how to intervene safely, and encouraging employees to speak out against inappropriate behaviour (Barling, Dupré, & Kelloway, 2009). Empowering employees has been shown to increase their willingness to intervene in problematic situations.

By following these steps, employers can strive towards creating a safe and supportive workplace culture that promotes inclusivity and diversity, and challenges bystander behaviour.


To combat bystander behaviour in the workplace, it is crucial for employers to take concrete actions that promote accountability and support for employees. Creating a culture of inclusivity and diversity through a multifaceted approach can play a pivotal role in achieving this goal. This approach may involve providing comprehensive training and education, establishing a robust reporting system that ensures confidentiality and safety for those who speak up, and setting a strong example through a zero-tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour.

Furthermore, empowering employees by providing them with tools and resources to intervene safely and support victims of harassment or discrimination can make a significant difference. Employers who take these steps can foster a culture of accountability and empowerment that encourages all employees to play an active role in creating a safe and inclusive workplace environment.

We hope you found this article helpful. For more information from RARA Education Project, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.


  • Banyard, V. L., & Plante, E. G. (2019). A bystander intervention model for workplace harassment and discrimination prevention. Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, 55(1), 96-113. doi: 10.1177/0021886318815897.
  • Banyard, V. L., Plante, E. G., & Moynihan, M. M. (2007). Bystander education: Bringing a broader community perspective to sexual violence prevention. Journal of Community Psychology, 35(4), 463-481.
  • Barling, J., Dupré, K. E., & Kelloway, E. K. (2009). Predicting workplace aggression and violence. Annual Review of Psychology, 60, 671-692.

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