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  • Moya Winter

Stand up to bullying. But How?

A victim of bullying in the workplace whilst other employee are bystanders

All too regularly we are hit with another press story relating to bullying in the workplace, the latest being in the Houses of Commons. A YouGov poll revealed that ‘The most likely source of bullying in adulthood is the workplace – more than half of those bullied as adults (56%) say they have been bullied by a boss or manager and 47% by a colleague’. Bullying is not exclusive to large organisations – it can happen anywhere, to anyone of any position. The impact is devastating and results in the individual feeling humiliated, degraded, undermined, or undervalued, all of which leave a lasting impression throughout the victim’s life. This creates a negative impact on operational effectiveness and destroys the collaborative work environment.

The rapid rise in remote and hybrid working following the pandemic also exposed a lack of appropriate online etiquette, increasing the potential for bullying and associated isolation with people fearful of speaking out about bullying. However, they are still suffering an impact. There is a clear link between increased bullying and workplace stress and sickness absence. The Chartered Institute of Personnel Development recently reported stress is the major cause of long-term sickness absence for both manual and non-manual workers.

What does bullying look like? Bullying can involve two individuals or groups of people. Listed below are examples of what bullying behaviour can look like:

  • spreading malicious rumours

  • unfair levels and type of work

  • exclusion from meetings, social events, decision making.

  • being regularly undermined in front of colleagues

  • denying training or promotion opportunities

A quote by Elie Wiesel: What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander

What can you do to stand up to bullying?

The short answer is to be an active bystander. But what does that mean?

A bystander is a person who observes a conflict or unacceptable behaviour. An active bystander observes a situation of conflict and unacceptable behaviour and decides to help.

Research shows that a bystander intervention culture can be an effective way of preventing and discouraging inappropriate behaviour before it crosses the line. If silence is compliance, speaking up and stepping in halts perpetrators, they won’t feel supported in their actions and they are less likely to continue with their behaviour, because risk of exposure and disciplinary action is added to the perpetrator.

The 4d's; direct, distract, delegate and delay. Garnett interactive uses this model as part of the bystander training

Everyone will be a bystander at some point in the workplace and therefore it is important for organisations to ensure their workforce are equipped and aware that they have a responsibility to intervene and what steps they can take to be successful. When it comes to intervening safely, remember the four D’s:

Direct Action:

If you choose to be direct, ensure you are safe to do so and look out for any possible escalations of the situation. Call out the negative behaviour, keep it short and concise to the event you have witnesses, tell the person to stop or ask the victim if they’re ok. If you choose to address the harasser do not be aggressive or aggravate them, this could affect yours and the victim safety.


Interrupt, start a conversation with the victim, talk about the weather or a great movie you have seen. If possible try to get the victim out the way of the perpetrator safely, they’re late for a meeting or that someone is on the phone for them. Be sure to take a moment to check in with the victim and reassure them that what you have seen is not ok.


If you don’t feel like you can step in yourself because of your own safety, anxiety or unsure in the best approach, you may be able to delegate. This could be to your boss/colleague, security, or a friend of the victim. A decent organisation will have a zero-tolerance policy on bullying and harassment so others will be around to step in, but it might take someone to raise the issue and identify it as unacceptable for them to do so.


If its not possible to intervene in the situation as it is playing out. Wait for the situation to pass, speak with the victim as soon as it is possible; ask if they’re ok, offer support if they wish to report the incident, if you can act as a witness this could validate how the victim is feeling. If they share that it is an recurrence, you could offer to sit with them at lunch, reshuffle the seating plan in the office or walk with them to their car at the end of the day. Support after the event is just as important as the support during.

If you are looking for training to reinstate your organisations values and standards of unacceptable behaviours such as bullying and harassment or if you would like organisational training on Bystander responsibility please enquire about our experiential training.


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