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Bullying in the Workplace, Where are the Bystanders?

workplace bullyA new Finnish study was released this Thursday indicating that adults who are victims of workplace bullying are more likely to be prescribed antidepressants. The study was released by BMJ. What was particularly striking was that the witnesses of workplace bullying were also adversely affected, ABC news highlighted that the study indicated that

Even witnessing bullying can have health effects, according to the study. Men and women who observed workplace bullying were one and a half to two times as likely to need similar medications, reflecting true, medically confirmed mental problems.

When discussing bullying among young people I stress the role of the bystanders to become upstanders, intervening on the behalf of the victim in a myriad of ways: expressing sympathy towards the victim, standing up to the bully, or seeking adult help. Yet, as we shift our focus to bullying beyond childhood and adolescents, I wonder where are the bystanders?

The study highlighted for me that in adult instances of bullying, bystanders are perhaps more reluctant to intervene due to workplace dynamics and fear of retaliation. In turn, not only do the victims feel isolated and suffer from mental distress but bystanders are in similar positions. How do we proactively address workplace bullying?

Companies, like schools, have to devise proactive responses to workplace bullying and follow through on their delineated protocol when an instance is reported. Furthermore, employees should be educated on the resources available to them: clear protocols of what to do if they are victim and/or bystander of workplace bullying, what HR department intervention would look like, accesses to employee assistance programs in their City and what mental health services are available via their health insurance benefits. Additionally, bystanders should be encouraged to report bullying to the appropriate HR manager without the fear that their confidentiality will be breached. 

As bullying becomes a national focus, I value the attention it is getting beyond the playground. It is evident that there is a pervasive culture of bullying that, unless we address universally, will not end. We have to help and protect our children as well as model for them (even if they are not cognizant of it) how to live bully free.

Workplace bullying photo available from Shutterstock

Bullying in the Workplace, Where are the Bystanders?

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT

Katherine Prudente, LCAT, RDT is a licensed creative arts therapist specializing in drama therapy. She currently is a counselor with the Freedom Institute Independent School Program providing psycho-educational workshops in over 50 Independent Schools in the metropolitan New York City area. Student workshop topics include: substance abuse prevention, digital citizenship and cyberbullying prevention, relational aggression, stress management and sexual decision making/healthy relationships. In addition to student workshops, Katherine also facilitates faculty and parent workshops regarding substance abuse prevention and digital citizenship/cyberbullying prevention. Katherine maintains a private practice in New York City working with adolescents and adults.

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APA Reference
Prudente, K. (2012). Bullying in the Workplace, Where are the Bystanders?. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 22, 2019, from


Last updated: 17 Dec 2012
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