Suicide and the toxic environment of the U.S. Postal Service

Like myself, Dr. Steve Musacco worked atthe U.S. Postal Service for more than 30 years and lost a good friend, a fellow worker, who committed suicide. In addition to my good friend who started with me at the Post Office in May 1980, my brother also worked at the Postal Service and he committed suicide as well. Dr. Musacco is a psychologist and a licensed counselor and he claims the Postal Service is a “toxic work environment” and of course, I agree with him. He mentions dysfunctional work systems, unrealistic goals and production targets as well as bullying tactics by management as some of the factors contributing problems at the Postal Service. He is absolutely spot on in his analysis, and I describe my personal experience with these very problems in my book, “The Truth Beyond Going Postal: Surviving the Torture in the United States Postal Service.” I had to face workplace problems as well as personal challenges, going to counseling, overcoming problems with alcohol and saving my marriage in the process of coming to terms with my 33 years at the Postal Service. Hopefully, people can learn from my experience.

The U.S. Postal Service is a Toxic Work Environment

Dr. S. Musacco - Beyond Going Postal

by Dr. S. Musacco

Prior to my retirement from the USPS, at a former district I worked for, there were three suicides within a two year period that I concluded were contributed to in significant part by how these employees were treated in the workplace. The third employee, a city letter carrier, fatally shot himself in a postal jeep and left a letter stating that he could no longer take the job. The night before he committed suicide he told his wife he did not know if he would be able to handle his job anymore. How do I know? His wife told me this one day after his suicide. He was one of the best employees in the office. The District Manager and I interviewed his coworkers after his death, and they stated he would urinate in a bottle while on delivery route for fear he would not meet an artificial deadline set by postal management. During the interviews, one of the postal supervisors told the District Manager and me that the day before the suicide she gave a letter to all the city letter carriers in the station, noting that any future over time used for their routes would be considered unacceptable performance. The suicide at the Gastonia postal facility was the second since December 2005.

Many people have asked: Why is there so much stress and workplace tragedies in the U.S. Postal Service? The answer to these questions is because the postal culture embraces and reflects core values that center on achieving bottom-line results with little or no regard for employee participation, respect, dignity, or fairness. Additionally, there is little or no accountability for the actions of top management in the Postal Service. Many postal facilities consequently have toxic work environments, and they can be a catalyst or trigger for serious acts of workplace violence, including homicide and suicide. The associated rewards system for behavior consistent with the postal culture core values, moreover, enables systemic organizational and individual bullying of employees at all levels of the organization.

I define a toxic workplace environment as a workplace where there is a high incidence of stress-related illnesses. These stress-related illnesses are manifested by psychological and physical deterioration. In other words, these types of environments seriously erode employees’ health and well-being. The primary factors contributing to a toxic workplace environment are high job demands, low job control, and low social support. Low social support generally entails a lack of respect and validation of employees’ dignity by their “superiors”. It also oftentimes includes organizational practices and methods that encourage the bullying of employees to meet corporate goals.

Dr. Steve Musacco
Beyond Going Postal

Dr. Steve Musacco is a Ph.D. in organizational psychology, a M.S. in Counseling, and a B.A. in psychology. He’s been licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist and completed Coachu’s coaching program. He also worked for the postal service for 30 years.


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