This week, we’re focusing on Bystander Intervention, in our three-part series on bullying.
A 2017 study surveying more than 1000 American workers indicated that workplace bullying may affect up to 60 million Americans. In addition to 19% of respondents reporting that they had been the target of this type of inappropriate behavior at work, about 20% of survey respondents reported witnessing it. Bullying can have detrimental effects on the target’s self-esteem, so there is a new focus by anti-bullying advocates on bystander or “upstander” intervention.
Put simply, bystander or upstander intervention encourages people to respond when they see something wrong, like bullying, harassment or assault. The response needs to be modulated by respect for your own situation and personal safety and might be as simple as speaking up to label the behavior as inappropriate. Since the person targeted by a bully might feel intimidated or unsafe in the moment, they may not be able or willing to advocate for themselves. Having a third party “upstander” acknowledge and label the problematic episode can help the target, the bully, and any other onlookers, recognize that this behavior is inappropriate. Upstanders might offer alternatives or suggestions — for example, suggesting that colleagues find more constructive ways to communicate if a bully was yelling or interrupting someone in a meeting. In other situations, speaking privately with the target about their experience may help them feel validated and empowered to call out the behavior if it continues. In more extreme cases, it may be time to talk with the target about reporting the behavior to a supervisor, HR, or the appropriate legal authorities.
Proactive approaches to bystander intervention include speaking with your employer about policies to help reduce bullying in the workplace. Does your HR department have a protocol for reporting and responding to bullying or other forms of harassment at the workplace? Does your team know about these procedures and understand their rights and responsibilities? Bullying does not occur in a vacuum and is not only an issue for kids on the playground; we are all bystanders and have the capacity to be upstanders in our efforts to promote positive working relationships.
Read the 2017 Workplace Bullying Institute’s report here: https://www.workplacebullying.org/wbiresearch/wbi-2017-survey/
Katelyn is a therapist and clinical supervisor with Peaceful Way Psychology, specializing in anxiety and relationship issues.