Bystander intervention training provides essential skills and insight to enable workplaces to combat discrimination, harassment and bullying.
With ACAS reporting that more than a third of women have experienced sexual harassment at work, policies, procedures and codes of conduct alone are simply not enough to protect employees from unacceptable behaviour.
Through empowering everyone to speak up when they witness such transgressions, bystander intervention helps to cultivate a culture of mutual respect and accountability, and doesn’t place the responsibility on just one small group of people to intervene and report workplace incidents.
What does bystander intervention look like?
So, how do people go about speaking up when they witness someone doing or saying something hurtful or inappropriate to a colleague? Here are a few bystander strategies:
- Have everyone prepare phrases they’d be comfortable using to question poor behaviour or language (for example, in response to a sexual comment or a microaggression) that will address the issue and hopefully open up further conversation. For example, “I don’t feel comfortable with what you just said…” or “Can we talk about why you felt that action was acceptable?”. Such questioning could also encourage the victim to speak up and report the incident.
- Sometimes the moment passes or people may not feel comfortable directly confronting someone, so they can approach the victim and ask if they’re ok instead. This will help dissolve the situation by disarming the perpetrator and removing the victim from the scene. More subtle strategies could also be deployed such as distraction or interruption – moving the perpetrator’s attention away from a particular person and making them focus on something else. This, however, should always be backed up with a report to a relevant manager to avoid a culture of sweeping incidents under the carpet.
- Help people to understand their own privileges and how they can use them to be good allies to their colleagues. Recognising how their gender, race, age or other characteristics could help them intervene when they see someone in a marginalised group being harmed, could give them the confidence to step up and speak out.
How do I support as a leader?
Bystander intervention can only be successful with the support of the whole organisation, including its leaders. Here’s how you can play a role:
- If you’ve witnessed an incident or received a report from a bystander, check in on the person who was targeted by the behaviour and ask how you can help. They may just want an empathetic ear or wish to take further action with HR.
- Hopefully the perpetrator will not have caused offence maliciously and it’s possible by addressing them directly and talking with them one-on-one that you can reveal a blind spot in their thinking and understanding. The incident may therefore be resolved with an apology and further education and training.
- In the case where the person declines to make things right, you must be prepared to take formal action and instigate investigatory procedures where necessary to show that certain behaviours will not be tolerated and that you support your active bystanders.
So, what’s involved in bystander intervention training?
Training will essentially equip people with the skills to identify and intervene when they witness potentially harmful situations, such as bullying or discrimination.
While this is important, such training should always be part of the bigger picture of fostering inclusive workplace environments so would benefit from being complemented with sessions to help develop employees’ understanding of diversity, as well as knowledge of unconscious bias, privilege and allyship.
At the end of the day, it’s a company’s culture that is the most effective weapon in preventing and tackling toxic workplace behaviour – a job which should never be left solely at the feet of employee bystanders.
Tell Jane offers comprehensive training workshops on a wide range of workplace issues, including empowering active bystanders, to help you foster a positive workplace culture. To find out more, simply email firstname.lastname@example.org.