Intervening in bullying does not lead to increased risk of being bullied

Those who intervene in bullying don’t run a greater risk of being bullied themselves. In fact, it’s the opposite: those who don’t intervene in bullying risk falling victim to it themselves. This has been shown in an article published in Psychology of Violence.


Even if many have a genuine fear of intervening in bullying, research has shown that these feelings are, in fact, unfounded. This has been shown in a scientific article by Linköping University Associate Professor Michael Rosander and University of Bergen Professor Morten Birkeland Nielsen. Those who witness and intervene in bullying don't run the risk of themselves being bullied due to their intervention.

In fact, those who don’t intervene run a greater risk of being bullied, as non-intervention allows workplace abuse to continue and supports the bullies’ negative behaviour. The risk of being bullied is three times higher for those who witness bullying but don’t intervene!

Photo credit Stefan Blomberg“This is the first time the consequences of intervening in bullying have been investigated. There are earlier studies investigating what people think about intervening when witnessing bullying, and these studies clearly show a fear of being bullied oneself. However, our research shows that these fears are unfounded”, says Michael Rosander.

Those who intervene help not only the victims of bullying, but also themselves and their own workplaces. They help improve the working environment for everybody, since workplaces where bullying occurs are often dysfunctional ones where the wellbeing of staff is negatively impacted.

“We have taken the first steps in this kind of research, and we hope that more research will enlighten us further. For example, we want to find out how these kinds of situation are affected by different types of intervention, or the varying statuses of the bully or intervener. For example, what happens if the bully is one’s manager”, Michael Rosander explains.

More about the study:

A representative selection of the working-age Swedish population, comprising those who work at workplaces with at least ten employees, answered a survey distributed by Statistics Sweden (Statistiska centralbyrån, SCB). In the first survey, sent out in 2017, the respondents answered questions about whether they had witnessed bullying during the past half year, and whether they had intervened. In a follow-up survey in 2019, the respondents were asked whether they had been subjected to bullying. It turned out that those who hadn’t intervened in bullying ran a three times as high risk of being bullied themselves.

Published article:
Rosander, M., & Nielsen, M. B. (2021). Witnessing bullying at work: Inactivity and the risk of becoming the next target. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication.


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