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Bullying and Burnout

Bullying can result in burnout. Neuro-scientific research shows that both the experience and the anticipation of bullying elevates cortisol levels, which if perpetually occurring can result in adrenal fatigue and have a knock-on effect on our cardiovascular system, digestive system, reproductive system and immune system, with the potential to result in burnout.

Whether you have experienced burnout as a child at home or school, through being bullied, being the bully or being a bystander, be it of verbal, physical, social, cyber, sexual or prejudicial bullying, you will likely remember only too well how it made you feel at the time. Bullying can have ramifications for us physically, socially, emotionally, academically and be very detrimental to our mental health.

Bullying does not just start and end in childhood. Associated issues relating to childhood bullying may persist through to adulthood. The experience of bullying can also continue or begin during adolescence or adulthood, affecting us at any age or stage in life. In the workplace, bullying can completely destroy career progression.

Workplace bullying or harassment can take various forms, for example:

- denying someone opportunities that they are entitled to

- exclusion from training, meetings, events or social occasions

- picking on someone

- constant criticism

- refusal to recognise achievements

- allotting menial tasks

- infantalising or patronising in one to one situations or in front of others

- overloading someone with unrealistic or unfair amounts of work

- regularly undermining someone

- denying requests for holidays or to attend significant events like a funeral

- intimidating someone or other unfair treatment

Bullying behaviour can be related to past experiences that have given rise to insecurities and low self-esteem, jealousy, frustration or anger. It can also be due to social struggles, discrimination concerning age, sex, sexual orientation, gender, disability, race, religion, or other beliefs. Often bullying behavior is the result of subconscious repeating of conditioned patterns learned in childhood and/or due to the neural make-up of the individual uniquely influenced by a combination of genetics, brain functioning issues (which can lead to a lack of remorse and inability to recognise their behavior) and/or a history of having been the victim of bullying themselves.

In a 2019 study of nurses in Seol found that continued exposure to stressful situations relating to workplace bullying was connected with an increased risk of hypertension and heart disease, the experience of physical discomfort, fatigue, and angina, as well as mental health issues including anxiety, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder. This and other related studies suggested that workplace bullying can lead to burnout and job-related problems such as decline in job satisfaction, productivity reduction, poor job performance and increased turnover.

If awareness of bullying is not brought in to organisational settings, then it is difficult for it to be challenged and stopped. Events like Anti-Bullying Week (Nov 13th – 17th 2023) and other similar initiatives can act as a great catalyst to encourage conversations that open up a sharing of thinking and experiences around this challenging topic. Doing this can help to surface underlying issues that may be previously have been taking place without anyone speaking up about them. It can also help to unlock the solutions to the problem sitting within the very same workplace where the issues are arising, especially if a coaching approach is taken to support the facilitation of this.

Any day can be an opportunity to host an awareness day however, there is no need to wait for an official event to roll around. Unless we actively seek to talk about bullying, shine a light on the issue and stamp it out, then we can be unintentionally tolerating it. When nobody is talking about it, people can feel powerless to stop it. Adopting a coaching culture into your workplace can hugely help. You can read more about this over on our blog post titled Toxic Culture vs Coaching Culture.

An example of an organisation that has successfully adopted a coaching culture is Nestle. There are many others, however Nestlé has been front of my mind since James Cook shared the coaching journey that his organisation has taken over the past twenty years at the recent UK ICF Confluence Conference.

Nestle provide training for all employees around a coaching mindset and everyday coaching fundamentals, embedding coaching behaviours throughout the organisation with additional support for team leaders in the form of more specific coaching skill development and advanced trainings for HR business partners, senior staff and internal coaches. Nestle have made 1:1 coaching available for all employees via a coaching platform that helps match coaches to coaches across the organisation. They also have external engagements with specialist coaches. An excellent example of what is possible in ensuring and promoting a collaborative, efficient, joyful and productive workplace.

What have been your positive experiences of raising awareness around bullying and succeeding in stamping it out? We’d love to hear! Jayne is currently gathering case studies for her next book and would love for you to share yours. Please email to:


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