Are you an innocent bystander to bullying & harassment at work?

A look at the effect of bullying on staff morale with some actionable tips to becoming an upstanding rather than innocent bystander if you should witness bullying and harassment at work.

It’s an unwanted situation which causes many to wrestle with their conscience – witnessing someone being the target of bullying and harassment at work. Do you stand up and call out the unfairness? Or do you keep your head below the parapet in fear of becoming the next victim, or being seen as a troublemaker and possibly dispensable in any future cutbacks?

Types of bullying

Bullying at work can take different forms. Many of us are familiar with the more overt examples of bullying behaviour. However, there are also many subtle forms it can take which we may not even recognise as signs of bullying. For example, ignoring an individual’s input, excluding them from meetings and social events or continuing to use an incorrect name despite having been corrected.

The effect of bullying on staff morale

Most organisations agree that bullying and harassment at work is unacceptable. And yet, more often than not, it is the victim and those witnessing a bullying culture who leave organisations where it does exist. The bully remains, finds a new target to focus their unacceptable behaviour on, and so the cycle continues.

Often inadequate training leads to managers not learning the skills required to deal with an allegation of bullying. Enlightened employers realise the damaging effects bullying behaviour can have, not only on employee wellbeing but on an organisation’s reputation, staff turnover costs and the dangers of a bullying culture at the top cascading down the management chain.

Training to help tackle bullying and harassment at work

Training and consultancy helps to create awareness and set boundaries at all levels of an organisation. This can help to ensure that unacceptable behaviour is called out and dealt with professionally. From creating awareness for all employees on how to deal with the subtle signs of bullying, to management training learning how to conduct a professional investigation into an allegation of bullying and the sharing of best practice. Courses are delivered by subject experts online or face-to-face anywhere in the country. Our full range of courses, all suitable for individual tailoring, can be found in the Tackling Bullying at Work section of our website.

6 actionable tips to become a supportive bystander

  1. Neither encourage nor support bullying and harassment at work. This could include not standing by while unacceptable behaviour occurs, not being involved in teasing or gossiping about others, not responding to e-messages that could embarrass or be hurtful to a colleague, as well as being clear with colleagues that you won’t be involved in such behaviour.
  2. Don’t assume a colleague will step up and take action. As humans, we naturally avoid situations we deem to be potentially dangerous. Studies looking into the “bystander effect” have shown that the more people who witness an incident, the lower the chance of one of them intervening.
  3. Speak to the victim to let them know you are aware of the behaviour, reassure them they are not alone and encourage them to get help. Suggest they always take a colleague to one-to-one meetings who can be a witness and record what was discussed.
  4. Build support by talking to others in the team/department, doing so may reveal other victims or witnesses.
  5. Let someone with HR responsibility know individually or as a group – many workplaces have realised the damage bullying can cause the organisation, in addition to the personal cost it can have on the mental health and wellbeing of individuals.
  6. Look after your self-care - calling out bullying will ultimately help the victim, workplace morale and productivity. However, the mental health of witnesses to a bullying culture can be indirectly damaged by it.

Harassment and bullying at work resources

As with all the subject areas where we deliver training, we have collated some valuable resource links which we share on our Tackling Bullying at Work Resources and our Tackling Sexual Harassment at Work pages.


Please Note: The information in this website is for general guidance  and is not legal advice. Equilibrium Associates Limited (In Equilibrium) will not accept liability for any loss, damage or inconvenience arising as a consequence of any use of or the inability to use any information on this website. We are not responsible for claims brought by third parties arising from your use of


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