Thursday, December 18, 2008

Workplace Bullying & Suicide

Molly stood at the edge of the subway platform as a train roared down the tracks toward her, its headlights breaking through the darkness of the tunnel. As metal screeched against metal, a wild, almost uncontrollable impulse overtook her: to throw herself on the tracks and end the pain.

Like many others before her, Molly had reached a breaking point. It wasn’t financial crisis that drove her there, nor unrequited love, nor the death of a loved one, but a boss who tormented her each day at work, creating a work environment that by now had become unbearable.

Molly is one of countless employees who have considered or committed suicide because of emotional abuse in the workplace. Unable to see a way out, whether in the form of a different job or an end to the abuse in their current positions, such individuals will tell you that the abuse overshadows their entire lives.

A few years ago, I was on two call-in television shows which addressed the issues of workplace stress and workplace bullying. A few callers shared personal stories regarding their desire to commit suicide because they could no longer take the abusive attitudes and behaviours of bosses and co-workers.

The callers believed that the only way out of the situation was to commit suicide. My heart went out to these individuals, as I listened to their accounts of emotional abuse and their desire to end their lives because of the abuse.

Even as a speaker and author who has extensively researched employee abuse in the workplace, I was outraged. Emotional abuse receives less public attention than other occupational hazards, such as faulty equipment and exposure to toxic chemicals. But emotional abuse is no less dangerous, and unfortunately is rampant even in organizations that might appear progressive and employee-friendly from the outside.

Employee emotional abuse manifests itself as bullying, whether in the form of loud, emotionally-charged tirades in the presence of other employees, or words of contempt delivered quietly in private, so that no one but the victim hears.

Emotional abuse can be as subtle as a negative, discriminatory attitude or as dramatic as a series of workplace “incidents” culminating in outright assault. Sometimes emotional abuse involves behind-the-scenes power plays that ensure that targeted employees are barred from promotions, or even lose their jobs.

Many organizations ignore emotional abuse until tragedy strikes, whether in the form of an employee taking his or her own life, or that of co-workers.

During the aftermath of such an event, the organization may “crack down” on abuse, and some previously abusive individuals may be sobered enough by the tragedy to keep their negativity in check of their own accord. Too often, though, the wakeup call is temporary and individuals soon resort to their previous attitudes and behaviours.

My book, Hope For A Healthy Workplace, which is now available as an audio book, addresses the issues of emotional abuse in the workplace, and workplace bullying. It introduces the readers to a new leadership model, a model I created as a result of research I conducted. The book gives the reader a glimpse at how such behaviour creates an unhealthy workplace and demotivates employees. It also provides recommendations for employees, leaders and organizations on how to create healthier workplace interactions.

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