Bystander Intervention - Definition and Explanation

Bystander Intervention – Definition and Explanation

Bystander Intervention


Bystander intervention in the workplace refers to the actions taken by an individual who witnesses unacceptable behaviour, such as discrimination, harassment, or bullying, to intervene and prevent the situation from escalating. It involves recognising the problematic behaviour, deciding whether to act, and then choosing the most appropriate method of intervention to support the victim and address the issue.


In today’s diverse and inclusive workplaces, fostering an environment where all employees feel safe and respected is crucial. Bystander intervention plays a vital role in achieving this goal by empowering employees to take a stand against inappropriate behaviour. This not only helps in mitigating immediate harm but also contributes to creating a culture of accountability and respect.

How Bystander Intervention Works:

Bystander intervention typically follows a four-step process:

  • Notice the Incident: The bystander recognises that a problematic behaviour or situation is occurring.
  • Interpret the Incident as a Problem: The bystander understands that the behaviour is unacceptable and warrants intervention.
  • Assume Responsibility: The bystander feels a personal responsibility to act.
  • Take Action: The bystander intervenes using an appropriate strategy.

Strategies for Effective Bystander Intervention:

Bystanders can choose from several intervention strategies, including:

  • Direct Intervention: Addressing the behaviour head-on by speaking up against it.
  • Distraction: Diverting attention away from the problematic behaviour to defuse the situation.
  • Delegation: Seeking help from others, such as colleagues, supervisors, or human resources.
  • Delayed Intervention: Addressing the issue later when it is safer or more appropriate to do so.


Consider a scenario in a UK office where an employee overhears a colleague making derogatory comments about another colleague’s accent. Recognising this as discriminatory behaviour, the bystander decides to act. They could directly address the colleague making the comments by saying, “I don’t think those comments are appropriate. We should respect everyone’s background and how they speak.” Alternatively, they might choose to distract by changing the subject to defuse the tension or report the behaviour to a supervisor.

The Benefits of Bystander Intervention:

Implementing bystander intervention in the workplace has numerous benefits:

  • Enhanced Safety and Well-being: It ensures a safer and more supportive environment for all employees.
  • Promotion of Inclusivity: It reinforces a culture of inclusivity and respect.
  • Reduction of Workplace Harassment: Regular interventions can lead to a decrease in incidents of harassment and bullying.
  • Empowerment of Employees: It empowers employees to take an active role in maintaining a positive workplace culture.


Bystander intervention in the workplace is a critical component of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives. By understanding and implementing effective bystander intervention strategies, employees can help create a more respectful and inclusive workplace environment. Encouraging and training employees to act as proactive bystanders not only addresses immediate issues but also fosters a culture where respect and equity are paramount.


Fischer, P., Krueger, J. I., Greitemeyer, T., Vogrincic, C., Kastenmüller, A., Frey, D., … & Kainbacher, M. (2011). The bystander-effect: a meta-analytic review on bystander intervention in dangerous and non-dangerous emergencies. Psychological bulletin, 137(4), 517.

McMahon, S., & Banyard, V. L. (2012). When can I help? A conceptual framework for the prevention of sexual violence through bystander intervention. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 13(1), 3-14.

Bennett, S., Banyard, V. L., & Garnhart, L. (2014). To act or not to act, that is the question? Barriers and facilitators of bystander intervention. Journal of interpersonal violence, 29(3), 476-496.

Darley, J. M., & Latané, B. (1968). Bystander intervention in emergencies: diffusion of responsibility. Journal of personality and social psychology, 8(4p1), 377.

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