Bullying: why most people do nothing when they witness it – and how to take action

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Workplace bullying occurs when an employee is subjected to repeated behaviours that harass, exclude, or negatively affect someone’s work. This may range from obvious acts of physical violence to more ambiguous behaviour, such as mocking, insulting or socially excluding someone.

Bullying can seriously affect victims’ mental and physical health, with extreme cases leading to self-harm or suicide. On average, workplace bullying affects around 15% of people, though some sectors, such as healthcare and higher education, report higher rates.

Workplace bullying has traditionally been seen as an issue just between the victim and bully – and dealt with accordingly. But bullying often occurs in front of others. Surveys show up to 83% of employees in some organisations report witnessing bullying at work. This is troubling. Witnessing bullying may harm bystanders’ own wellbeing, stimulating fear of how they might be treated in the future. But how bystanders respond can either help or worsen the situation for victims.

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