Bystander action has been proposed as a promising intervention to tackle workplace bullying, however there is a lack of in-depth qualitative research on the direct experiences of bystanders. In this paper, we developed a more comprehensive definition of bullying bystanders, and examined first person accounts from healthcare professionals who had been bystanders to workplace bullying. These perspectives highlighted factors that influence the type and the extent of support bystanders may offer to targets. Semi-structured telephone interviews were conducted with 43 healthcare professionals who were working in the UK, of which 24 had directly witnessed bullying. The data were transcribed and analysed using Thematic Analysis. The analysis identified four themes that describe factors that influence the type and extent of support bystanders offer to targets of bullying: (a) the negative impact of witnessing bullying on bystanders, (b) perceptions of target responsibility, (c) fear of repercussions, and (d) bystander awareness. Our findings illustrate that, within the healthcare setting, bystanders face multiple barriers to offering support to targets and these factors need to be considered in the wider context of implementing bystander interventions in healthcare settings.


Bystander, Workplace Bullying, Employee Support, Managers, Qualitative Methods, Healthcare, Thematic Analysis, Human Factors

Author Bio(s)

Neill Thompson is Senior Lecturer in Occupational and Organisational Psychology at Northumbria University. His research involves examining workplace bullying, employee selection and the wider application of qualitative research methods in the fields of occupational and social psychology. Please direct correspondence to neill.thompson@northumbria.ac.uk.

Dr Madeline Carter is a Senior Lecturer at Northumbria University. Her research has involved investigating workplace bullying in the NHS, training and learning, professionalism in healthcare, selection, individual differences and performance, and the quality and delivery of medical education; often working in partnership with NHS organisations. Please direct correspondence to madeline.carter@newcastle.ac.uk.

Dr Paul Crampton is a Lecturer in Health Professions Education at Hull York Medical School, University of York. His research involves undergraduate and postgraduate medical education and more widely in health professions research. His research has explored workplace bullying, fitness to practise, revalidation, and workplace-based learning. Please direct correspondence to paul.crampton@hyms.ac.uk.

Dr Bryan Burford is a lecturer in Medical Education at Newcastle University. His research interests focus on the transitions which take place through medical education: becoming a medical student; progressing through the MBBS programme, and qualification and beginning work in the Foundation Programme. Please direct correspondence to bryan.burford@newcastle.ac.uk.

Prof Jan Illing is Professor of Medical Education Research in the School of Medical Education at Newcastle University. Jan has worked extensively in the field of medical education and has conducted research across a range of themes including: medical transitions, professionalism, revalidation and workplace bullying in the NHS. Please direct correspondence to jan.illing@ncl.ac.uk.

Dr Gill Morrow is a now retired Senior Research Associate in Medical Education at Newcastle University.


We are grateful to Charlotte Rothwell for contributing to the design of the study. This project was funded by the North East Strategic Health Authority and the Northern Deanery in the UK. The funding organisations had no role in the study design or analysis of raw data.

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