Active bystander intervention involves being an agent for positive change in your workplace – and in the wider community. It is a strategy that encourages and empowers employees to step forward, take positive action and intervene when they witness potentially harmful or inappropriate behaviour, in order to prevent escalation of the situation or harm to an individual.

Why is active bystander intervention so important for today’s workplaces?

The primary aim of active bystander intervention is to promote and cultivate a workplace culture of respect and inclusivity, as well as a collective responsibility among employees for upholding this culture.

In today’s diverse and interconnected workplaces, promoting a culture of belonging is essential for the wellbeing of employees and the success of the organisation. By encouraging employees to be active bystanders, your organisation is sending a clear message to your people – and your stakeholders – that you are committed to employee wellbeing as well as taking a zero-tolerance approach to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

In turn, when employees feel supported, respected, and valued, their sense of job satisfaction is increased leading to heightened productivity and increased attraction and retention of diverse talent.

What are the benefits?

  1. Prevents workplace bullying, harassment and discrimination

Active bystander intervention can help prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination by addressing toxic behaviour early on – and head on. Without intervention, harmful behaviours may be allowed to go unchecked, resulting in a hostile working environment and an increase in formal complaints and grievances.

  1. Increases employee awareness of toxic behaviour

Active bystander intervention involves being aware – aware of the environment, aware of the people around you, and aware of the relationships and dynamics between those people. It also requires an awareness of what constitutes bullying, harassment and discrimination – for example, what is a genuine joke between friends and what is a microaggression or inappropriate comment that crosses the line?

  1. Encourages collective accountability

This increased awareness in turn encourages employees to take responsibility for the wellbeing of their colleagues and for the culture as a whole. Active bystanders are mindful of others; they understand that their actions (or inaction) can have a significant impact on their colleagues and the overall organisational culture. Everyone has their part to play.

  1. Improves the employee experience

Active bystander intervention empowers individuals to trust their instincts and believe that they have the ability to make a positive difference. It encourages employees to move beyond the fear of repercussions and take a stand for what is right. This is galvanising.

  1. Boosts employee morale

Similarly, having confidence that they will be supported by their colleagues creates a sense of community and trust among employees, which in turn boosts company morale. And when employees feel like they belong and are supported, they are more engaged and motivated to perform at their best.

  1. Reduces employee turnover

A workplace free from toxic behaviour and where employee wellbeing is top of the priority list is more likely to retain talented employees. Active bystander intervention can help reduce turnover rates, saving the organisation time and resources in recruiting and training new employees.

How to encourage active bystander intervention

So you want to introduce the concept of active bystander intervention into your workplace – that’s music to our ears. Here are our top tips for where to start:

Training

Provide employees with active bystander intervention training to not just educate them on how to recognise bullying, harassment and discrimination, but to equip them with the practical tools for how to intervene and the actions to take to interrupt harmful behaviour.

Upskill leaders

For employees to feel empowered and able to proactively intervene, they need confidence that they will be supported by their manager when doing so.

Leadership support is essential for the success of bystander intervention. By speaking openly about the importance of active bystander intervention, role-modelling inclusive behaviours and addressing any incident of toxic behaviour proactively, leaders can inspire their teams to follow suit and embed collective accountability for the company culture.

Robust reporting lines

Being an active bystander means taking action. This doesn’t necessarily mean donning a superhero cape and rescuing an individual in need. They may not feel safe, confident or able to intervene at the time – and that’s ok; they can still make a significant impact to the person experiencing the harmful behaviour and to the company culture as a whole by making a report.

Employees need to be aware of the outlets available to them for speaking out when they witness bullying, harassment and discrimination – whether that’s their line manager, HR or a confidential reporting hotline. In all instances, employees need to feel confident and trust that their reports will be heard, taken seriously and acted upon effectively.

 

Active bystander intervention is a powerful tool for encouraging a collective responsibility for upholding a culture of inclusion and respect. At Tell Jane, we offer highly practical Active Bystander training as well as training to upskill leaders in role-modelling inclusive behaviours and effective complaint handling. Get in touch to discover more. Let’s look out for each other.

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