Over the past year, I worked with a tremendously knowledgeable researchers to collaborate to write a White Paper to inform readers about the neurobiology of workplace bullying. This paper reviews the neurobiology of exposure to workplace bullying and suggests strategies to prevent neurobiological injury.
I have framed exposure to workplace bullying as a workplace hazard that needs to be mitigated because it can cause injury. Injury can range from mild to severe depending on the length of exposure, the severity of exposure, a target’s power to address the bullying, and the organization’s willingness to act early and follow policy.
I have argued that because exposure to workplace bullying will create similar injury to a person as other stressors. Severe psychological stress has been associated with trauma, depression and anxiety, heart disease and other chronic illnesses. Research shows that exposure to workplace bullying is associated with similar outcomes including depression, anxiety, suicide, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, coronary heart disease, diabetes, and other inflammatory diseases.
I have also argued that exposure to workplace bullying is associated with changes in the structure and functioning of neural systems and brain structures. We now have studies that have examined the impact of exposure to workplace bullying on neural systems and brain structures. These studies show negative changes in many systems. These changes lead to changes in cognitive abilities to focus and learn, emotional abilities to regulate emotions, language areas, hyperarousal areas, and more. With injury to these systems, those exposed cannot function as a healthy and productive person at work or in life. Workplace often compound the injuries by not addressing dynamic early, using formal methods of intervention that usually create more stress, e.g., mediation, investigation, or they try to ‘wiggle’ out of responsibility by us strategies such as DARVO: Deny, Attack the target, Reverse Victim Offender, thus making the target the bad guy. This results in an escalation of tension, and I believe everyone’s brain is impacted and no one functions with empathy, compassion, or rational thought.