Homicides at workplaces
The author is a deputy head of the economic policy team of the JoongAng Ilbo.
On May 25, a father killed himself. The Naver union issued a statement that the employee suffered from excessive work-related stress and hierarchical harassment. A week after the incident, Naver suspended related executives.
The incident sent shock waves across Korea. It is not because suicide is a rare event. People feel deeply disappointed that Naver, the internet giant, was not different. In the fierce corporate culture in Korea, all workers face direct and indirect harassment at workplaces.
A few years ago, a friend’s co-worker suffered from depression due to the boss’s excessive demands and verbal harassment and committed suicide. But at the funeral, the boss who drove the employee to suicide took the center seat and spoke loudly. This scene scarier than any horror movie is not an urban legend but reality.
Statistics show an even more frightening reality. Unlike developed countries like the United States, the Korean government does not have official statistics on suicide caused by bullying at workplaces. The actual status can only be estimated based on the 2020 Suicide Prevention White Paper published by the Central Suicide Prevention Center under the Ministry of Health and Welfare. According to the white paper, 487 people committed suicide due to work or job-related issues in 2018. That year, 397 people were murdered, according to data by Statistics Korea. Nearly 100 more died because of verbal and physical abuse, harassment and bullying by co-workers and bosses than those murdered.
The data shows that those who cause suicide at workplaces are just as dangerous as murderers. The only difference is that their behavior is not as obvious or extreme.
In his book “Set-Up-To-Fail Syndrome,” leadership expert Jean Francois Manzoni warned about the banality of worksite harassment that drives individuals and organizations to collapse. He pointed out that workplace bullying rarely involves physical intimidation or threats. More typically, it consists of unfair and excessive criticism, public insult, isolation, repeatedly changing or setting unrealistic work targets, undervaluing of work efforts, and verbal abuse, he said.
There is only one solution. Management expert Mitchell Kusy and psychologist Elizabeth Holloway stress a complete “termination” in the book “Toxic Workplace!: Managing Toxic Personalities and Their Systems of Power.” They warn that the entire company could fall unless the polluted organization culture is changed. We can survive when we change.