It Couldn’t Hurt

Several years ago, Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology published the results of a five-year study conducted on workplace suicides. Those results indicated people, at that time, were more likely to commit suicide on Wednesdays than on any other day of the week. But no one connected with the study gave any indication of what was magic, or lethal, about Wednesdays. Maybe more working people are predisposed to seeing the week as half-left, rather than as half-gone.

Be that as it may, it appears things haven’t gotten any better since then. According to a recent article in The Washington Post,

More people are killing themselves in the workplace than ever before. The number of such suicides for 2018 was 304 — an 11 percent increase from the year before and the highest number since the bureau began tracking the data 26 years ago.

We could make careers out of studying — or speculating about — the reasons for this uptick in workplace suicides: Maybe it’s job dissatisfaction. Maybe it’s the fraying of our cultural fabric. Maybe it’s the fact that we distance ourselves from each other as we surrender our lives to the Siren-call of electronic communication. Maybe it’s because, as we’re continually encouraged to look outward — to blame, to envy, to covet unto bitterness — we never learn that truth, contentment, fulfillment, and peace can only be found by looking inward.

Rather than adopting that career or engaging in that speculation, we offer, as a public service, a number of common-sensible things can be instituted in any workplace to get life and limb over Hump Day and every other day:

  1. Use different calendars. The Gregorian Calendar helps us synch with our clients. But preceded by the Sunday Night Dreads, the workweek begins on Monday. Wednesday follows Tuesday and precedes Thursday. The routine becomes existentially numbing. That’s why at O’Brien Communications Group, we each use a different calendar. We use the same clocks to maintain some semblance of a daily schedule. But some of us celebrate Ground Hog Day the same day others celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe Day. We have no predictable routines, no Wednesdays (just in case), and an endless variety of things to discuss around the water cooler.
  2. Swap jobs. This is a never-ending source of mirth and frivolity. Our most successful instance at O’Brien Communications Group was the day Steve Mildew from IT Operations swapped jobs with Mildred Blitz in Payroll. Somewhere around 10:30 that morning, our computer network crashed; and everyone received a $5,000 bonus. What a blast.
  3. Wear boxing gloves. Manual dexterity is like electricity, running water, Internet connections, cell service, and underwear: you never know how much you rely on it till you have to do without. If everyone shares the loss of manual dexterity, wearing boxing gloves at work can be an endless test of resourcefulness, a wonderful team-building exercise, and a welcome source of amusement. There is, however, some distress: users of computers, smartphones, and PDAs suffer most, followed by chronic nose-pickers.

As a last resort — since we share just one human condition and since no problem is unique — maybe we can try talking to each other a bit more.

Even if it’s just on Wednesdays, maybe we can try caring about each other a bit more, looking out for each other a bit more, making each other feel a bit less alone in our suffering.

It couldn’t hurt.

Mark O'Brien
Mark O'Brien
I’m a business owner. My company — O’Brien Communications Group (OCG) — is a B2B brand-management and marketing-communication firm that helps companies position their brands effectively and persuasively in industries as diverse as: Insurance, Financial Services, Senior Living, Manufacturing, Construction, and Nonprofit. We do our work so well that seven of the companies (brands) we’ve represented have been acquired by other companies. OCG is different because our business model is different. We don’t bill by the hour or the project. We don’t bill by time or materials. We don’t mark anything up. We don’t take media commissions. We pass through every expense incurred on behalf of our clients at net. We scope the work, price the work, put beginning and end dates on our engagements, and charge flat, consistent fees every month for the terms of the engagements. I’m also a writer by calling and an Irish storyteller by nature. In addition to writing posts for my company’s blog, I’m a frequent publisher on LinkedIn and Medium. And I’ve published three books for children, numerous short stories, and other works, all of which are available on Amazon under my full name, Mark Nelson O’Brien.
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Susan Rooks

OK, Mark — that was NOT what I was expecting! I had no idea about the suicides; it’s scary to think so many take their own lives due to their job stresses. And I love how how your group has come up with some fun ways to shake off the doldrums or miseries and get laughing.

Chronic nose-picker … love that! Thanks for an unexpected and most enjoyable laugh this Monday morning.

And this week’s Wednesday will be a Wonderful Wednesday because it’s also my networking group’s meeting!

Aldo Delli Paoli

I have no specific skills on the subject and therefore I cannot pronounce myself.
In general I think that, normally, dissatisfaction is a signal that indicates that something is wrong, that we are following wrong directions or that we are involved in a relationship with work that does not make us feel good. In any case, in a certain sense, it warns us that we must change something in order to achieve a state of greater satisfaction and well-being. From this point of view, dissatisfaction is not negative, on the contrary, it encourages us to change and improve aspects of us or of the situations around us. In practice, it pushes us to transform our resources to redirect our steps in a constructive sense.
However, when dissatisfaction takes on the characteristics of chronicity, it becomes dysfunctional and negative for well-being; it happens when it plunges us into a state of permanent displeasure and prevents us from focusing and fully living the present, because we are not satisfied with what we are, we do not fully accept our identity and the situations that, for various reasons, we live daily.

Sarah Elkins
Sarah Elkins

That’s really surprising to me, Mark, the Wednesday thing. When I was in a miserable job many years ago, I would get a migraine every Sunday night, so I guess I’d assume the number of suicides at the workplace would be Sunday night or Monday.

So very sad, though I think your calendar alternatives just. might. work. I’ll implement a couple here at Elkins Consulting, too.

Your point is not missed – talk to each other more on Wednesdays. Maybe even make Wednesday the regular taco lunch day, that always improves me days. Or institute a regular Wednesday 4pm cookie break? Anything to encourage people to talk. Thanks for the heads’ up.

Maureen Y. Nowicki

Try talking to each other just a bit more…what a concept! Powerful penning, Mark!

Andrew Books
Andrew Books

Nice work weaving the humor into the serious, Mark. The message is clear, though. We need to care more, and that is lost sometimes in the every day. I have been affected by suicide several times in my life, and unfortunately, so have many others. I did hear an alarming stat this morning, though. over 1K attempted suicide last year… stat on success ratio.

Dee Coxon

What a great post Mark thank you for sharing and while the Wednesday suicide stats are very disconcerting I do like the boxing gloves idea and as for talking…. I think its my gift and I don’t say that in jest for example;
My 2 young grandchildren often say to me;
Gma you don’t know that man ( or woman) you’re talking to in the coffee shop do you?
I say: No I don’t
They say: you’ve made him ( her ) smile, why do you think that is if they don’t know you?
I say: Because I’ve taken the time to ask “are you having a good day so far”?
They say: But what if they’re not having a good day?
I say: Then they tell me their not and why their not.
They say: But they don’t know you Gma so why would they tell you?
I say: I don’t know why they just do and that’s all that matters.
They say…… but what if someone told you to get lost…………
I say: Then I’d get lost
They say: you’re so funny Gma!

Laura Staley

Mark, this reminds me of a text I got from a friend that said, “Even the calendar on Tuesdays says WTF?!?!” Suicide is a serious issue in our culture-not just in the workplace and often those who’ve lost a family member to suicide don’t feel particularly safe talking about this. Meaningful connection to people-because we’re wired to belong to one another-seems to remain at the core of many challenges. When people feel disconnected and powerless, they sometimes turn to tragic actions. Laughter often is great medicine for all kinds of things- Thank you for offering some wonderful comedic remedies to encourage us to connect with one another and laugh. These ideas (job swap, boxing gloves- strike me as improv for the body, heart, and mind. Hilarious!

Len Bernat

Mark – Such an important article. When I was in the Marine Corps, Christmas holiday season triggered the most suicides. So, I made an effort to watch my Marines for signs of depression, I engaged to get a feel for how they were handling the separation from family, and even held a Christmas lunch where I had them share their favorite Christmas memories. Being accessable and showing them they were important to me hopefully made a difference. So, leaders need to tune in to their people – it could save a life. Thanks for starting this discussion.

Jeff Ikler

Mark, when I was a high school history teacher many decades ago – working in a particularly challenging urban/suburban school – my colleagues and I referred to Wednesday as “hump day.” When the last bell rang at the end of the day, a half a dozen of us or more would head to our local watering hole and celebrate having made it over the “hump.” The end of other days might find four of us playing racket ball, which was very popular back then. A number of us also took graduate courses together. The point being, we survived and thrived because of our collective energy and bonds.

Kimberly Davis

Mark, you are the king of the unexpected!

John Dunia

Always fascinated by your insights, Mark. I’ll continue to wish you the best but it looks like my wishes aren’t required.

Laura Mikolaitis

Mark, what an excellent and informative article you have crafted, and with a dose of humor. It certainly lends some perspective on many things, not the least of which is an alternate use for boxing gloves. I recently completed a six-week boxing fitness class. I LOVED it! But, drinking from my water bottle with gloves on, well, let’s say I got more water on me than in my mouth. But, I can see how wearing them in the office would lend itself to some fun team building.

Thanks for sharing your insights with us!



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