Suicide In The Workplace Is No Easy Pill To Swallow
I was not quite sure I wanted to write about suicide, I was not sure I should ultimately I was not sure I could either. I am no moral authority and maybe talking about suicide was a bad idea.
I was told this is really personal and you should leave it. Yes I agree it is personal and every family who has been exposed to this would tell you the pain and trauma they had to go through, no I disagree I should not leave it, having come across Kevin Briggs and John Hesnan recently and having introduced one to another they indirectly comforted me that even the use of a cheap title for this article may prompt the reader to take time to think about this important issue. Both Kevin and John took it very personally one in his daily line of duty the other one as a successful entrepreneur who wanted to break a taboo from his past (check Kevin`s TED Talk)
Suicide is a very tricky, complex and traumatic issue but let me use simple words, I was personally and directly exposed to suicide attempts at age 8 and 10 and I can tell you nothing prepares you for the shock, the world as you know it is collapsing around you in a very uncontrolled and unpredictable spiral pacing at a speed that even Formula 1s would have difficulty to keep up with. Again suicide crossed my path when as a young manager in his 23rd year I was again very taken aback by a morning phone call, the person on the line was breaking the news that John (not his real name) a chap who was part of the team I had taken over 4 weeks prior would no longer be coming to his desk, actually after 18 years of loyal service he would no longer work either he was gone………
Gone were also my thoughts about the restructure, the fancy communications, the important milestones and other beautiful changes I was openly planning. Gone was my naivety, gone was my casual optimism, gone was my superficiality, guilt stayed and the promise that as much as I could this would no longer happen under my watch…
Orange in France (ex-France Telecom) with an approximately 100 000 workforce undertook a vast restructure implying around 20 K + reduction in force plans a few years back. Between 2008 and 2010 57 employees committed suicide and the previous year the number was 37, At the start even the French press began to report about the events in a business style almost metrics like comparing average and trend and I remember that I thought this was very wrong. How many families had to deal with forced mobility headaches, how many families had to endure financial heartaches and how many employees fell they were so stuck in a corner that the only rescue they were considering was the ultimate sacrifice hoping this would provide a definitive answer.
The company`s management for the most part referred to personal circumstances and a ``mal être`` as the main causes, it was always the personal context blah blah blah….. The disturbing mimetic of the final acts reached a paroxysm when a 40 year old employee took his life in the premises of his agency in Roubaix (North of France). The note he left behind was a relief to the Company`s management as it implied personal circumstances, however past the shock and horror this left deep scars on the collective psyche of the company`s workforce which was already numb and shell-shocked beyond comprehension.
I too don’t understand how come WE (the imperial we) can reach a point when you have double digit numbers showing an alarming addition of lives being erased because of the direct or indirect pressure of the work environment. There is something fundamentally wrong when we avoid or fail to recognize the warning signs that it is not business as usual.
So what can we do? I suppose if you are an individual contributor in any company big or small I would say look out for your colleagues, reach out, take a colleague for a coffee ask them how they are, read the signs and make sure they are alright if you think they are not, how small your role can be on any day you could be a life saver, there is currently a campaign about mental health called ``The Little Things`` here in Ireland which I quite like and I think it does speak for itself.
On the other hand there is no code of conduct or any chart that I know of for middle and senior management of any company but if there was one I think it would be important to stress out that your number one priority is duty of care, leading or managing people is an incredible privilege having a shiny title or a big office does not warrant any supreme rights over the individuals you are working with , you have not been given a license to screw up lives by projecting your insecurities on your subordinates, you can still deal with performance issues or business pressure by not pushing your employees over the edge, I would say bullying takes different shape or form and one`s emotional make up is fragile you never know what you may trigger.
Don’t be a lousy boss, have courage, lead with compassion and make every effort to be a decent manager you have so much impact when you do the right things and please oh please I am almost begging you don’t ever become one of those
If you are in crisis please talk or contact somebody who can help you
•Samaritans 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
•Console 1800 247 247 – (suicide prevention, self-harm, bereavement)
•Aware 1890 303 302 (depression, anxiety)
•Pieta House 01 601 0000 or email email@example.com - (suicide, self-harm, bereavement)
•Teen-Line Ireland 1800 833 634 (for ages 13 to 19)
•Childline 1800 66 66 66 (for under 18s)#
Also a useful resource about Mental Health http://www.yourmentalhealth.ie/
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