A business owner from Massachusetts called me the other day, and told me that one of his key employees has made various comments about suicide as an end to his problems.  Obviously taken aback by these comments, the owner asked me for some advice about how to address this potentially fatal situation.

First things first, knowing that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America and is the second leading cause of death in men ages 25-54, I told him to consider all such comments as being extremely serious.  Next, I directed the owner to conduct an immediate assessment of the employee (e.g., write-ups, workers’ compensation injuries, pattern of absenteeism/tardiness, work responsibilities involving dangerous equipment or tasks, recent performance review).

With that accelerated review complete, I suggested that the owner follow this three-step approach:

Personal

Bring the employee into a confidential meeting with the owner and Human Resources to examine the comments, ask about his/her condition, and express personal support of the employee.

  • “I’ve been told that you have made several comments about ending your life, and I am very concerned.”
  • “Do you want to let me in on what is causing you to make these types of comments?”
  • “You are a valued member of our team; a person we all look up to and respect.”
  • “I want you to know that my door is always open for you. You can come to me and talk about anything that is contributing to these types of thoughts.”
  • “Thank you for trusting me. I am on your team; you are not alone. I have some ideas that might help.”
  • “I want you and me to meet again next week. Okay?  I look forward to seeing you then.”

Organizational

Inform the employee about any available company resources s/he may utilize during this difficult time:

  • Potential time off from work (e.g., FMLA) to attend counseling sessions (e.g., suicide, depression, alcohol, drugs, chronic pain, financial problems, relationships).
  • Access to the company’s Employee Assistance Program (If your company does not have access to an EAP, explore its options immediately).
  • Work assessment of job-related pressures, difficult supervisor, inordinate stress, etc., that may be modified through administrative changes (e.g., role ambiguity, role conflict, overload, bullying, extensive work hours).
  • Distribute available workplace health brochures, pamphlets, and fact sheets (If your company does not have these documents, get them immediately).

External

With a tone of non-judgmental support, offer to help the employee with various external resources:

  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255.
  • Local Faith-based Organizations.
  • Local Hospital, Clinics, or Mental Health Professionals.
  • Access to the mantherapy.org website.
  • Have the employee meet with his/her personal physician to discuss a professional referral.

If you have any questions regarding the above-mentioned content or any other human resources topic, simply call me at (760) 685-3800.


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Steve Cesare Ph.D.

Steve Cesare Ph.D.

has more than 25 years of Human Resources experience. Prior to joining The Harvest Group, Steve worked with Bemus Landscape, Jack in the Box, the County of San Diego, Citicorp, and NASA. Steve earned his Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology from Old Dominion University, and has authored 34 human resources journal articles. As a member of The Harvest Group, Steve’s areas of expertise include: staffing, legal compliance, wage and hour issues, training, and employee safety.  Read Steve's full bio.