Mobilizing bystanders to intervene in workplace bullying

Charlotte Rayner, L. Bowes-Sperry

    Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


    Bystander intervention has the potential to defuse workplace bullying situations. Beyond its impact on specific situations it might serve to set and maintain positive standards, creating a working community with zero-tolerance of interpersonal abuse (Rayner & Keashly, 2007). In this paper, we integrate research from the literatures on school violence/bullying, workplace sexual harassment, and bystander intervention to develop a training program designed to both encourage bystander intervention in workplace bullying and provide employees with the skills required for effective intervention. Each of the authors intends to implement and evaluate this training program within our respective countries. Research on sexual harassment (e.g. Knapp, Faley, Ekeberg, & Dubois, 1997), school bullying, and workplace bullying (Rayner & Cooper, 2006) indicates that targets of such behaviour are often reluctant to report it even when mechanisms are in place to do so because of emotions such as shame and fear. This implies that organizational efforts to end harassment or bullying that rely primarily or exclusively on target reporting are not likely to be successful and that other prevention or control mechanisms must be explored (Bowes-Sperry & Powell, 1999). Twemlow et al. (2004: 216) argue that bystanders "create a social architecture for school bullying." A similar argument is made by Bowes-Sperry and O’Leary-Kelly (2005) who state that "nonintervention actually may create an environment that encourages sexual harassment." Therefore, it is not surprising that bystander intervention has been proposed as an effective method for dealing with school bullying (Andreou, Didaskalou, & Vlachou, 2007; Twemlow, Fonagy, & Sacco, 2004) and workplace sexual harassment (Bowes-Sperry & O’Leary-Kelly, 2005). As the title of our paper suggests, mobilizing employees who observe workplace bullying to intervene will not be easy because bystander intervention is the last step in a complicated decision-making process. According to Latane and Darley (1970), bystanders must first notice an unfolding event, and then: 1) interpret the situation as requiring action, 2) decide that it is their personal responsibility to act, and 3) decide on a specific form of assistance to provide. The bystander intervention literature finds that bystanders (or those who witness an event) often do not intervene on behalf of a victim. Despite the issues described above, anti-bullying intervention programs that focus on bystander intervention have been effective in dealing with school bullying. For example, Andreou et al. (2007) describe an intervention in Greek schools that improved students' self-efficacy for intervening in incidents of bullying and led to less "outsider behaviour" (in which students sit by in silence allowing the bullying to continue) and Twemlow et al. (2004) describe the effectiveness of an intervention program in U.S. schools which focused on the helpful bystander role. Similarly, techniques such as the use of scripts in racism (Ishiyama, 2002) and written commitment (Banyard et al, 2007) in sexual violence that have emerged recently could provide guidance for designing bystander intervention training in workplace bullying. In addition to the theoretical implications described above, this paper has numerous practical implications. For example, bystander intervention training will not be effective unless the culture of an organization truly supports it. Such training needs to be based on organizational values rather than or in addition to compliance with organizational policies.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2008
    EventThe 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying - Montreal, Canada
    Duration: 4 Jun 20086 Jun 2008


    ConferenceThe 6th International Conference on Workplace Bullying


    Dive into the research topics of 'Mobilizing bystanders to intervene in workplace bullying'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

    Cite this