This page includes articles from 1998-2021 in reverse chronological order. Some major points:
In these articles, the term “bystander” is used for people who observe or come to know about the behavior of others (whether unacceptable or exemplary behavior), but who are not knowingly engaged in planning or executing that behavior.
The public image of bystanders is that they are all “do-nothings” who watch something transpire without taking action. However, Rowe’s research shows that the reality is quite different. Bystanders in organizations and communities—people who either witness unacceptable behavior or see someone struggling to get traction for a good idea—often do intervene, in one or more of dozens of effective ways. Bystanders of bystanders also frequently act in helpful ways in organizations by supporting bystanders. Powerful bystanders are frequently the only effective constraint on the behavior of the most powerful offenders.
However, bystanders often have multiple, conflicting, idiosyncratic, and
changeable motivations and are very strongly influenced by context. Responsible bystanders need receptivity from their organizations and communities if they are to seek help. They may face serious barriers and dilemmas. They often hesitate before acting on their own or reporting unacceptable behavior—or even offering good ideas. They may need confidential and customized support to act or come forward about illegal behavior.
A conflict management system can enhance receptivity. At the front end, providing confidential informal resources helps make a complaint system appear more receptive. For example, an organizational ombuds can provide multiple options for getting information about conduct violations to managers and other authorities while protecting the confidentiality of bystanders and reducing the risks they face in coming forward.
When it comes to formal interventions, it is essential that bystanders can trust the people they turn to for help. This is especially true if there is a need for investigations; one cannot overestimate the importance to fearful bystanders of their being able to trust investigation processes. (Providing fair, prompt, independent, and competent formal investigations is a challenge which calls for significant resources.)
In diversity and safety programs, bystander training is becoming more common, to help prevent and respond to harassment and unsafe behavior. Bystander training can expand beyond introductory sessions that deal with an immediate, dangerous situation to include mundane, day-to-day bystander actions that can help to change a culture over time. Training managers to become receptive to concerns brought to them and to become active bystanders themselves may increase the effectiveness of bystander training programs.
The nation needs a bystander research agenda to address questions such as:
a) Are bystanders more effective in systems that focus resources on respectful, kind, and affirming behavior?
b) What do we need to know about bystanders causing harm, whether inadvertently or intentionally?
c) How do bystanders help when they perceive exemplary behavior that is overlooked, and does this help in changing a culture?
d) Are people more productive and less prone to burnout in organizations and communities where bystanders are encouraged to act effectively if they witness abuse?
- “Consider Generic Options When Complainants and Bystanders Are Fearful.” Rowe, Mary. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association. Forthcoming.
- “For the Hesitant Bystander Who Learns of Unacceptable Behavior and Wants to be Helpful: A Checklist with Examples and Ideas to Consider.” Rowe, Mary. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association. Forthcoming.
- “Mistreatment Experiences, Protective Workplace Systems, and Occupational Distress in Physicians,” Rowe, Susannah G., Miriam T. Stewart, Sam Van Horne, Cassandra Pierre, Hanhan Wang, Makaila Manukyan, Megan Bair-Merritt, Aviva Lee-Parritz, Mary P. Rowe, Tait Shanafelt, and Mickey Trockel. JAMA Network Open 2022: 5(5)e2210768. doi: 10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2022.10768. (Note: This article is the first to provide quantitative data finding that the perception that bystanders intervene when someone is mistreated is associated with better occupational well-being.)
- “Bystanders: ‘See Something, Say Something’ Is Not Enough.” Rowe, Mary P. Alternatives to the High Cost of Litigation Vol. 39, No. 10 (November 2021): 153-165. (Note: This article is an expansion of “Supporting Bystanders: See Something, Say Something is Not Enough.” Rowe, Mary. MIT Sloan Working Paper 5897-20. Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management, January 2020. The article discusses the need for a zero-barrier office in a CMS to make it less risky for bystanders to offer information in serious cases.)
- “An Unusual Harassment Training That Inspired Bystanders.” Rowe, Mary. MIT Sloan Working Paper 6478-21. Cambridge, MA: MIT Sloan School of Management, October 2021. (Note: This essay illustrates the importance of training managers and faculty about complaint-handling and about being effective bystanders.)
- “The Importance of Bystanders in Threat Assessment and Management.” Borum, Randy, and Mary Rowe. Chapter 24 in The International Handbook of Threat Assessment, 2nd ed., edited by J. Reid Meloy and Jens Hoffmann. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021.
- “Fostering Constructive Action by Peers and Bystanders in Organizations and Communities.” Rowe, Mary. Negotiation Journal Vol. 34, No. 2 (April 2018): 137-163. (Note: Table One in this article is a long list of “Some Naturally Occurring Helpful Bystander Actions.” This list illustrates the importance of frequent, mundane bystander actions in building community and a culture of conflict management competence, as well as the better-known decisive actions that bystanders can take in emergency situations.)
- “Bystanders.” Rowe, Mary, and Anna Giraldo-Kerr. In The SAGE Encyclopedia of Psychology and Gender, edited by Kevin L. Nadal. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications, 2017.
- “Bystander Training within Organizations” (PDF). Scully, Maureen, and Mary Rowe. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association Vol. 2, No 1. (Winter 2009): 89-94.
- “Dealing with—or Reporting—‘Unacceptable’ Behavior” (PDF). Rowe, Mary, Linda Wilcox, and Howard Gadlin. Journal of the International Ombudsman Association Vol. 2, No. 1 (Winter 2009). (Note: This article includes a discussion of the myriad reasons why people hesitate to act.)
- “Helping Bystanders Take Responsibility for Diversity.” Scully, Maureen, Mary Rowe, and Laura Moorehead. Cultural Diversity at Work (published by the GilDeane Group) Vol. 10, No. 6 (July 1998): 14-15.