Adverse Childhood Experiences in the workplace

There is very good science that shows adverse Adverse Childhood Experiences in the first ~5 years of life can set up life long physiological changes re: levels of cortisol, hyperarousal of the nervous system, aggression (“Why Love Matters: How affection shapes a baby’s brain” by Sue Gerhardt).

There is also very good science that shows these adverse experiences are the precursors to a life of other physical, mental and relationship issues; with a strong correlation between an increasing number of experiences and a persons early death (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study).

Unfortunately these experiences are a lot more common in our society than you may imagine. It really shouldn’t be, but it is.

1 out of 6 children (on average) here in the UK experience some form of child abuse. That climbs to a staggering 1 in 4 girl children.

NAPAC Training for Individual Professionals, 27 September 2019, Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse (2017)

Now pull up the website for NAPAC (National Association for People Abused in Childhood). Their counsellors help people who have experienced emotional abuse, neglect, coercive control, gas lighting etc. All common parlance in family therapy circles, but not really discussed in the context of workplaces or workplace HR for some reason I can’t understand.

Research also shows that the occurrence of childhood abuse is not limited by race, creed, culture, class, religion, socioeconomic factors etc. It doesn’t discriminate who it happens to.

Which means that it’s not unreasonable to expect that the 1 out of 6 adults (or 1 out of 4 women) who have experienced some form of Adverse Childhood Experience to also be working in Agile programmes, IT transformations, software teams and management in the same proportion.

These are the people around us each and every day.

And our early emotional experiences are latent in all that we do, all the time.

Yet workplace literature and the HR department for some reason, don’t stray far from acknowledging “bullying” and “micromanaging” as rather simple behaviour issues.

Wouldn’t it be better to start talking about the full spectrum of interpersonal dysfunction that can occur when people get together in workplace groups or teams, and start re-enacting family of origin patterns??


Frank Ray

Ask any project manager about the key to their success, and they will say that delivering a project is often more like a "dark art" or by chance, than a predictable science.

They may also say that a project going 'off the rails' was one of the most stressful things they have professionally experienced. And unfortunately, it’s all too common.

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