Bystander Intervention: A Proactive Approach
To Effective Harassment Prevention

What is the Bystander Effect?

We all know the expression, “safety in numbers.” When a group of people mutually support one another, we naturally assume that each member of the group feels a measure of confidence that the group will have their back. However, it turns out it’s not always true that the group will be there for someone when they are beset by a harasser. The term “Bystander Effect” was coined by social psychologists to describe the tendency of individuals to feel less responsible to help or intervene in group settings. In fact, the more bystanders present, the less likely any of them are to intervene. And that’s a big problem – especially in the workplace.

Bystander Intervention – Harassment Prevention in the Workplace

One of the most effective ways to prevent harassment in the workplace is through Bystander Intervention– the act of effectively intervening to prevent or stop someone from disrespecting and harassing another person. With the right training, tools and motivation, bystanders can intervene and even prevent inappropriate behaviour before it rises to the level of unlawful harassment. This is what makes Bystander Intervention Training so important.

What is Bystander Intervention Training?

Bystander Intervention Training aims to neutralize the Bystander Effect.

It explicitly trains employees how to recognize and address toxic workplace behaviour by dismantling the barriers to intervention. Through this training, employees can gain a deeper understanding of how Bystander Intervention can protect colleagues from discrimination and harassment and help prevent future – potentially costly – incidents.

Reasons People Don’t Act

The first step in our Bystander Intervention Training is helping employees to understand the various reasons people don’t act – even though they think they should. These include:

“I don’t know what to do.” This is the typical deer-in-the-headlights reaction you see in bystanders when somebody makes an inappropriate remark about or to another employee, whether in the boardroom, the office or the lunchroom.

“Nobody else is doing anything.” Interestingly, when a person is the only bystander, they are up to 85% likely to intervene; however, if others are inactive, a bystander will (more than likely) take their cues from the group and avoid intervening.

“I’m not sure if that’s harassment or not.” Here, the bystander is afraid of misjudging the situation and also of being negatively judged by others for intervening. This can be especially challenging if the bystander observes an interaction between a supervisor or manager and an employee under their direction. Often the bystander may hesitate if they are unsure that what they observe is a legitimate exercise of supervisory authority or something that amounts to vexatious conduct.

“I’m afraid I’ll make things worse.” This is a direct outcome of not understanding the options you and your co-workers have as bystanders to harassment.

There are all kinds of reasons people don’t intervene. But letting a comment or two go is a slippery slope.

Our Approach To Bystander Intervention Training

Our Bystander Intervention Training resources help raise awareness, within your workplace, about the importance of speaking up against harassment. It provides employees with practical steps towards addressing the abusive behaviours that can lead to a toxic workplace culture and employee attrition.

We teach the “Five Ds” of Bystander Intervention:


The idea is to interrupt the harasser, engaging the targeted co-worker directly for help with something (e.g., “Do you know where I can find the new client files?”)


When using this method, you as a bystander are seeking out a third-party – a supervisor/manager, HR representative, etc. – to intervene on your behalf.


A helpful way to assist a target is to create a record of the harassing incident. This can support the targeted person if they want to take further action against their harasser.


Even if you are not able to help in the moment, you can still support the target who was harassed by checking in on them after the incident, and offering them simple moral support.


Sometimes the best method for a bystander is the “direct method,” wherein you directly respond to harassment by naming what is happening or confronting the harasser.

In a healthy workplace culture that promotes values of respect and mutual support, harassment is not tolerated. When everyone feels they can stand up for others they believe are being mistreated, they will demonstrate that they have come to appreciate these values, and are more likely to be steadfast and loyal than if they experience hesitation and fear when witnessing unacceptable workplace behaviour.

Bystander intervention programs, like workplace harassment training generally, should be a process, not an event. Bystander training along with ongoing communication, education, and support will help prepare employees to serve as effective first lines of defense against harassment in the workplace.

Call today to book your bystander intervention training 1 888 552 1155 or visit: