If you’re wondering about the terrible impact of workplace bullying on targets and their family and friends, a recent press conference in New York hosted by advocates for the anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill put the question front-and-center.
Among the speakers were Maria Morrissey, sister of Kevin Morrissey, an editor for the Virginia Literary Review who committed suicide last July; and Katherine Hermes, friend of Marlene Braun, a California park service employee who committed suicide in 2005.
Maria Morrissey on Kevin Morrissey
Maria Morrissey has become an advocate for the Healthy Workplace Bill in the aftermath of her brother’s suicide, which has been linked to his work experience at the University of Virginia’s Virginia Quarterly Review, a literary magazine. As reported by Veronica Lewin for the Legislative Gazette (link here):
When she and [Kevin’s] friend Waldo went through his apartment they found a clue next to his suicide note: a copy of the book “Working with the Self-Absorbed: How to Handle Narcissistic Personalities on the Job.”
…According to Maria, the book was underlined and filled with notes, suggesting Kevin read the book in an attempt to end the workplace torment he dealt with for three years.
“We both got chills feeling like that was Kevin saying please carry on this fight, I can’t do it anymore.”
Katherine Hermes on Marlene Braun
Kathy Hermes, a college professor in Connecticut and coordinator of the Connecticut Healthy Workplace Advocates, spoke at the press conference about Marlene Braun. As reported by the Legislative Gazette:
Marlene Braun shot herself and her three dogs after being a target of bullying in her office. Katherine Hermes, Braun’s friend, said the bullying started after Braun sent an e-mail correcting a factual mistake her boss had made without copying him into the document.
“This may sound trivial, but a lot of workplace bullying starts with trivialities,” said Hermes.
…Braun often told Hermes about her work environment. Braun’s boss often ordered her out of the room during meetings and took her name off memos she had written and submitted them as his own. After an offsite meeting, Hermes said Braun’s boss cornered her outside of her truck and screamed at her.
We have a considerable body of evidence documenting what severe workplace bullying can do to its direct targets. But we also need to grasp how workplace bullying can have a destructive effect on personal relationships with spouses and partners, other family members, and friends.
And when those so-called third parties understand what the target is experiencing, they often suffer with the target — what psychology experts call “secondary trauma.”
Oftentimes, that secondary harm does not become evident until stories like these emerge. Just as we have seen with school bullying, it often takes an act as desperate and horrific as suicide to bring the human costs of workplace bullying to public attention.
In these tragedies, we can hope and pray that the victims are at peace. But their surviving relatives and friends must bear the pain of those losses. Some have channeled their mourning and grief into a commitment to effect change. Others are struggling more privately.
For more information
The Hook, a Virginia weekly, has followed closely the story of the Kevin Morrissey suicide and aftermath. In particular, editor Dave McNair has written several thorough investigative pieces, including here (initial investigative piece, August 2010), here (analyzing the University of Virginia’s internal report, October 2010), and here (looking at the future of the literary journal, April 2011).
The Workplace Bullying Institute has compiled an extensive online archive of information about Marlene Braun, here.
Friends of Marlene Braun maintain a Facebook page with information about her death and ongoing support of the workplace bullying movement, here.
To support the Healthy Workplace Bill
To join the legislative campaign to enact the Healthy Workplace Bill in your state, go here.