How Should Managers Deal With Workplace Suicides?

Bad things do happen and managers need to know how to deal with them
Bad things do happen and managers need to know how to deal with them
Image Credit: pieter musterd

So let’s face it. Talking about someone ending their own life is never a pleasant discussion. However, as a manager you need to be prepared to deal with this kind of event if someone on your team decides to take their own life. If we can step away from the hard and cold fact that you will now have to replace someone on your team, you need to understand that when somebody commits suicide, it’s going to have a ripple effect on your organization. Just about the only thing that could make this even worse would be if they decided to end their life while at work.

Workplace Suicide

So just exactly how big of a problem are we dealing with here? In the U.S., the number of suicides in 2016 were 45,000. This is a 35% increase from 10 years earlier. Of these suicides, 291 took place at work. This is the highest number since the government stated collecting statistics 25 years ago. From a manager’s point-of-view, a workplace suicide can be both sudden and traumatic for the rest of the team. An event like this can cause ripples of guilt and anger to flow across a team. Additionally, managers have to deal with the negative impact on a team’s productivity that something like this is going to have.

As a manager, despite how unpleasant it can be, you need to be have the manager skills to be prepared if something like this was to happen at your workplace. Many firms are taking the steps of bringing in counselors who can work with managers. The goal is to provide the manager training to spot workers who may be considering suicide before they do it. Managers need to be aware of the potential warning signs of suicide: a decline in a teammate’s personal hygiene or some other significant change in a person’s personality. Key things that a manager needs to be looking for are team members who start to say things like “You would all be better off without me.”

If the worst happens, a team member commits suicide, then a manager is going to have to make sure that in addition to themselves, the rest of the team gets the counseling that they are going to be needing. What this generally means is that an employee assistance program can be used to help those employees who have been traumatized by the event. If the suicide occurred at work and some employees saw it, then they will need extra assistance. Nobody knows why there has been an increase in workplace suicides. One possibility is that the number is increasing because more such events are being properly classified as suicides as opposed to in the past when social pressure may have resulted in a cover up in regards to the cause of death.

Steps That A Manager Can Take

In order for managers to start to deal with the problem of suicide at work, we have to first try to understand what is going on here. One of the questions that we need to be asking is why are people choosing to kill themselves at work? One group of people may be those who don’t really care all that much about their job. These people may choose to commit suicide at work so that they don’t have to worry about their loved ones finding the body. Another group of people are those who are completely caught up in their work. If a member of this group decides to commit suicide at work it is probably because they are trying to send a message to the people that they work with.

One of the things that a manager has to be aware of is how the members of his or her team view their workplace. Is it seen as being a high-pressure job? If it is, then the possibility of someone ending their life while at work becomes higher. Team members who realize that they are working in a high stress environment will often spend more time focusing on their jobs simply because they don’t want to allow the job to start to get to them and negatively impact their lives.

One thing that managers have to be very careful of is if members of their team have job where they would have access to tools that they could use to end their lives. This can significantly boost the risk that this will happen. In order to prevent things like this from happening, managers may want to consider providing members of their team with suicide prevention training. Additionally, it may be a good idea to have a counselor on staff whom the members of your team can go talk with if they feel that they need to. If a manager has a member of their team commit suicide, then they need to understand that this is going to make them feel like a failure. The best thing that a manager can do if this happens is to talk about what happened publicly. The worst thing that you can possibly do is to ignore what has happened. That won’t do either you or your team any good.

What All Of This Means For You

Although it is a topic that no manager really wants to talk about, suicide of a team member is something that could happen at any point in time. What can make an event like this even worse is that there is the possibility that team mate could choose to take their life while in the office. If this happens, then all of sudden that manager job you have just got a whole lot tougher.

In the U.S., the number of people who are committing suicide has been increasing for the past 10 years. Additionally, more and more of those suicides have been occurring at the workplace. Managers need to be aware that something like this could happen. In addition to team building, they need to be trained on what they need to watching out for in terms of team members who might be considering suicide. If a team member does commit suicide, then managers need to make sure that the proper counseling is made available to the remaining members of the team. There are a number of different reasons why a team member may decide to commit suicide while at work. A contributing factor may be if the workers view their jobs as being high-pressure jobs. Managers need to take steps to get training on suicide prevention for their team. Having a counselor on staff can be a good idea also. If a team member does commit suicide, then a manager needs to understand how this will make them feel. They need to talk about the event in order to help themselves move through it.

As managers, we always seem to have a lot on our plates. It turns out that with the rising rate of suicide in the U.S., there is something else that we need to worrying about. Our first line of defense needs to be to make sure that we can detect if any of our team members may be considering suicide. If they are, then we need to take steps to get them some help. If someone slips through our fingers and ends up committing suicide, then we need to make sure that proper counseling will be made available to both our teams and for ourselves.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that your team should be given any time off if one of their members commits suicide?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

It goes without saying that the #metoo movement has resulted in the downfall of many formally powerful men: Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Charlie Rose, and Matt Lauer. Clearly there were a lot of very bad things going on in the entertainment industry. As managers we need to understand what the impact of all of this is going to be on our work environments. Is it going to result in tougher polices towards office romances or changed attitudes? What’s a manager to do?