There was a 28 percent increase in the number of suicides committed in the workplace last year over the prior year, according to a census by the U.S. Department of Labor released in August. There were 251 reported workplace suicides in 2008.

And workplace suicides are an international concern. France Telecom SA has had a string of 23 employee suicides that unions are blaming partly on layoffs and restructuring at the company.

According to CBS News:

The latest suicide, and the one to spark top-level concern, was that of a 32-year-old woman who threw herself out a fourth-floor window of her office building in northwest Paris on Friday. The woman worked in the debt-collection service of the company’s Orange subsidiary, and had been involved in discussions on restructuring.

Here are some patterns that the U.S. Department of Labor is seeing in workplace suicides:

  • Of the workplace suicides in 2008, 94 percent were committed by men, even though men worked just 57 percent of the nation’s job hours.
  • The workplace suicide rate was highest among employees ages 45 to 54, who accounted for 36 percent of all such deaths. Workers in the age range represented just 25 percent of hours worked.
  • White workers committed 78 percent of workplace suicides in 2008, also a disproportionately high number.
  • White workers accounted for 69 percent of total hours worked.
  • Employees in management occupations accounted for the largest group of suicides. In 2008, they accounted for 14 percent of suicides.

That these suicides take place in the office is a very telling aspect. I am in no way qualified to venture an opinion in the psychological realm, but it seems pretty clear to me that a couple of things are going on that could be contributing to the rise of this disturbing trend.

The economy sucks. People are in debt up to their eyeballs, and money plays too much of a role in their lives. Or even if they’re not in debt, people have children to raise and to have their security pulled out from under them is unbearable.

People too frequently define their identities by their jobs. They spend much of their lives at the office, only to find that one day they’re downsized or find out they’re going to be downsized, and they feel that all of that effort didn’t mean a thing.

If I could offer any advice to people, it would be to simplify your life. What you have to offer this world goes much deeper than a paycheck or a lofty job title.

If anyone reading this blog has ever felt overwhelmed by a job loss or the prospect of debt, please, please call your company Employee Assistance Program if it has one. If not, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (

Next time, I’ll talk about the effect a co-worker suicide has on remaining employees and what one’s company can do to help.