The Role of Bystanders in Workplace Bullying

The Role of Bystanders in Workplace Bullying

10 Jun 2022

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This informal CPD article The Role of Bystanders in Workplace Bullying was provided by BulliesOut, one of the UK’s most dedicated and ambitious anti-bullying charities.

The Effect of Workplace Bullying on Bystanders

Those who witness workplace bullying behaviour but decide not to step in to help are described as ‘bystanders.’ With an ability to intervene or empower, bystanders are crucial support networks to those affected by bullying behaviour. Research suggests that around 80% of people have witnessed bullying behaviour in the workplace. However, these bystanders may respond in different ways, including:

  • Abdicating – allowing bullying behaviour to occur without intervening
  • Empathising – quietly identifying with the target of bullying but taking no action
  • Instigating – helping to create a situation to allow someone to bully others

Whilst the impact of workplace bullying is well reported, one study has suggested that up to 70% of bystanders can experience stress from witnessing bullying behaviour, with around 22% leaving their job due to the resulting toxic workplace environment.

Survivor Syndrome

By staying at an organisation after some who have been bullied decide to depart, bystanders can be affected by ‘survivors’ syndrome’, experiencing anxiety, sadness and guilt.

To fill the void of their departed colleagues, bystanders may be given a higher workload, fuelling their stress cycle, and potentially leading to increased levels of vulnerability to workplace bullying themselves. Despite this perceived injustice, they may work even harder to avoid being bullied in the future, like their fallen former colleagues.

Bystander Interventions

There are a range of practical ways that a bystander may be able to intervene in the bullying process at work to support colleagues and the work environment around them. For instance, bystander intervention programmes can be introduced in organisations, teaching techniques and strategies that can be applied to bullying scenarios, such as asking colleagues to stop and knowing the resources available to them.

Alternatively, bystanders can engage in witness corroboration, reacting immediately to support colleagues with evidence to suggest wrongdoing at work. By usually being able to outnumber supervisors, bystanders can collectively be supportive figures to confide in, as well as representatives who can speak out on behalf of those who are bullied.

Despite these potential interventions, bystanders may need support themselves to be prepared to challenge the status quo in the first place. For instance, bystanders with low belief in their capability to influence events are less likely to support colleagues affected by workplace bullying due to fear of repercussions. Additionally, bystanders appear more likely to intervene in bullying scenarios when a person is seen more as a friend than just a colleague.

A Force for Good

Going forward, organisational decision-makers have a key part to play by considering investment in methods to create stronger colleague relationships and empower bystanders. This may help them to understand the resources available and how they can safely intervene in workplace bullying with courage, conviction, and confidence.

We hope this article was helpful. For more information from BulliesOut, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

BulliesOut

BulliesOut

For more information from BulliesOut, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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