HR Leader logo
Stay connected.   Subscribe  to our newsletter

Understanding speak up culture and the bystander effect to prevent bullying

By Jack Campbell | |5 minute read
Understanding Speak Up Culture And The Bystander Effect To Prevent Bullying

Jessica Hickman, founder and director of anti-bullying solutions company Bullyology, joined The HR Leader to discuss speak up culture, why it’s important, and the damage caused by being a bystander to bullying.

Ms Hickman said: “The number one desire people share is that they want to be seen, heard, valued, and cared for at work.

“I've found time and time again, that something called the bystander effect is ultimately the enemy to success with workplace culture … It says that as human beings, when things get hard, challenging, or quite toxic and difficult, our natural instinct and desire is to diffuse responsibility.”


She continued: “I’ve focused my work on switching the pendulum to what I call the ‘upstander effect’, which realises that if we do dedicated training and capability building with organisations and people leaders to identify why theyve got bystander cultures, [we can] switch the pendulum to build upstander cultures.”

Ms Hickman says that through “focused education, awareness [and] developing our skills, from empathy, ethics, equality, to conscious listening, we can ultimately create that speak up culture.”

“Being an upstander simply means recognising when something is wrong and acting to make it right,” she said.

By taking the time and effort to undergo education and training, Ms Hickman says organisations can thrive and collectively help eliminate bullying in the workplace.

“Its building capability around how to be an upstander. So, Ive developed my five steps to being an upstander, which are: to look at the environment, to listen consciously, to learn and unlearn, to lead change, and the last one is to love.”

While these additions to policy are important for protecting employee wellbeing, Ms Hickman noted that creating a healthy work culture can also have benefits to productivity, retention, attraction and more.

“Building upstanding cultures from the ground up can create these thriving cultures that can last the decade of change, and ultimately keep bringing good talent into the organisation. But also, sustain them, because were in a crisis with our people at the moment, attracting and retaining talent,” explained Ms Hickman.

She added: “Just the simple tip of doing listening tours around the business and organisation, listening to the people, looking at the body language when you approach. Are they open and receptive? Are they willing to share their inside emotions and feelings?”

For more information about Ms Hickman’s work around bullying in the workplace, you can visit https://bullyology.com/ and https://jesshickman.com/

Note from the editor: If you’re currently experiencing any of the issues discussed in this podcast episode and would like to reach out for help, you may wish to contact Lifeline: www.lifeline.org.au

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full audio conversation with Jessica Hickman is below, and the original podcast article can be found here.



Your organization's culture determines its personality and character. The combination of your formal and informal procedures, attitudes, and beliefs results in the experience that both your workers and consumers have. Company culture is fundamentally the way things are done at work.


Harassment is defined as persistent behaviour or acts that intimidate, threaten, or uncomfortably affect other employees at work. Because of anti-discrimination laws and the Fair Work Act of 2009, harassment in Australia is prohibited on the basis of protected characteristics.

Jack Campbell

Jack Campbell

Jack is the editor at HR Leader.