7. November 2023

Why is everyone talking about… bystander culture?

Personio Pulse: This Week in HR - 1

Welcome to Personio Pulse: This Week in HR, where each week we take a look at the latest trends in the world of work, what you need to know about them and what they mean for you as an HR professional. 

This week we’re covering the toxic nature of a bystander culture.

What you need to know

A recent inquiry into sexual harassment in the Royal Air Force's Red Arrows Aerobatic Team found that it was “widespread and normalised”. This included multiple incidents of what was described as “predatory” and “inappropriate” behaviour at work. 

Ultimately, the inquiry revealed a “bystander culture” within the Red Arrows. This is a type of workplace culture where inappropriate behaviours are not often challenged, which in effect condones and allows them to continue unencumbered.

What others are saying about it 

In short, a bystander culture is bad for everyone. A recent study found that workplace discrimination of any kind has an adverse effect on employee motivation and productivity.

Brent Simpson, Professor of Sociology at the University of South Carolina, co-led the study — here’s how he summed up its findings: 

“Our results suggest that [workplace discrimination] can lower productivity of all workers, even those advantaged by it – which means discrimination may hurt firms’ bottom lines more than has been assumed.”

What that means for you

Bystander culture is bad for employees and bad for business. The Red Arrows inquiry simply highlights how common it can be and how important it is to stop it. 

HR professionals have a key role to play here. To help, we’d consider implementing the following measures: 

  • Develop clear policies and procedures surrounding sexual harassment. If you already have some in place, consider reaching out to a third party expert for an in-depth review of your current policies. 

  • Provide training to all employees on sexual harassment and how to be an ally in the workplace. Offer tangible examples of how a bystander culture might develop, so employees know how to nip it in the bud. 

  • Establish clear guidelines on whistleblowing for your organisation. Additionally, consider establishing a dedicated whistleblowing solution that helps employees feel empowered to report wrongdoing. 

The Red Arrows inquiry is a reminder to organisations that a bystander culture can have severe consequences for impacted employees, overall performance and an organisation’s reputation. HR can play a leading role in communicating and leading the charge on promoting healthy, equitable workplace cultures where problematic behaviour is never tolerated.

What else should I read? 

That's all for this week's edition of Personio Pulse: This Week in HR. Check back next week as we continue to dissect the latest trends impacting the ways we work. 

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Max Specht

Max Specht

Max Specht is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Personio. He enjoys writing and discussing topics related to employee engagement, leadership development and process optimisation.

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