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Many workplace harassment incidents don’t only involve the victim and the perpetrator. Instead, many members of the office or corporation may be aware that something illegal is occurring, yet never report a problem. The culture of silence surrounding workplace harassment has gotten in the way of legal action, arrests, and justice in the past. Spotting red flags and speaking up right away, on the other hand, can make the hammer of justice swing much faster. Break the chain of inaction by understanding – and preventing – the bystander effect.
A culture of silence is much less likely to end workplace harassment than one of empowerment, free speech, and interventions. If no one speaks up against harassment, the perpetrator may never face consequences for his or her actions. In fact, some perpetrators may not even realize others are perceiving their actions as harassment. Saying something starts a conversation, shows that employees won’t tolerate harassment behaviors, and ends the normalization of harassment in the workplace.
The bystander effect, or everyone in the workplace staying on the sidelines when it comes to reporting harassment, can be the reason harassment and discrimination continue to pervade a work environment. Bystanders who fail to intervene when someone does something that could constitute harassment are, in essence, condoning the behavior. Not going against the harasser could give the impression that a bystander is with the harasser – thus building the hostility of the work environment for everyone involved.
Bystanders who don’t speak out also normalize harassing behaviors at work. By not saying anything, bystanders are showing other employees (such as new hires) that this is the norm for the office. This in turn could perpetuate the cycle of harassment and cycle into the next generation of employees. Most important, the bystander effect could fail to prevent serious harm to employees. If more bystanders broke their silence, perhaps the numbers of victims harassed, assaulted, and raped in the workplace would be lower.
The most important thing as an employee is to detect and report sexual harassment as early as possible. Whether you’re the victim or you notice harassment-like behaviors directed toward a coworker, speak up. Tell your human resources representative what you heard or saw. File a charge against your employer with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The sooner you act, the sooner harassment victims can receive assistance. Don’t wait to see if the victim will speak up him or herself. As a bystander, you have a duty to say something.
Learn how to recognize and report workplace harassment to end the bystander effect in your workplace. The future of sexual harassment at the company could be in your hands. While it shouldn’t be your battle to fight alone, you can be the first to speak out and say something against harassment in the office. If you see something that you know isn’t okay, don’t be afraid to be the first to say something. Encourage the victim to come forward if he or she is afraid of consequences such as retaliation. Let the victim know he/she is not alone and does not need to suffer in silence.
Educate yourself and your coworkers on employee rights to decrease the odds of the bystander effect. The more you and your associates know about harassment at work, the easier it will be to recognize and eliminate this problem. Learning the signs of harassment, for instance, can help workers become more aware of their own actions and behaviors, and avoid those others may perceive as threatening.
Prompt reporting is key to protecting workers, shedding light on harassment, and preventing history from repeating itself with future employees. Don’t be a bystander to harassment in the workplace. Be part of the solution.