February 20th, 2015

Let’s Talk with Kalola: The Post Office Goes Postal

Dear Kalola,

I worked for the USPS for over twenty-five years. I never had problems with coworkers and was considered a good employee. After suffering personal problems, I noticed a change towards me from my coworkers. After being told that we were going to move to a larger facility, I became very excited at the thought of meeting new people. After we moved to the new location, things got steadily worse. Since there was very little supervision this went on daily without notice. I thought that surely these new people had a mind of their own.That someone would like me. But it appeared that things were being said about me. Things being said that I didn't know about. It was obvious that the other people were choosing to believe what they were told. I am a quiet person who suffers from depression. I was getting worse by the day.

One day after having about enough, I went to the post master crying. Not only did he not take my side, the accused saw me crying. Because of my mental state, it was very difficult to control my emotions. Through gossip, I was told that they were out to get me fired.

I confessed to my supervisor one day that I drank alcohol before work to control my feelings. I was let go on the spot and have not been back since. This was last spring. I will not go back since I know that nothing has changed.

I was a subject of gossip. I was left out of daily routines. (People were told not to talk to me) also I had problems with parking that was very dangerous to myself. I was watched daily and told on to supervisors.

I can prove everything, because it is all true. My regret is that I had not used alcohol to handle my problems. But I know in my heart that I am the victim.

a former Postal Worker

Dear Formal Postal Worker,

Thank you for writing in and sharing your workplace story.

No one likes to be the subject of office gossip. A worker can be friendly and still work cooperatively with others without revealing personal details of their life and/or their feelings about their co-workers. Don't share relationship issues and/or your personal problems with your co-workers. Don't feed information to those who would only gossip about you or who would tell your boss. People talk and gossip can hurt. A rule of thumb: Do not share information about yourself that you would not want repeated. Keep in mind that gossipers often enhance the tales that they tell.

Bullying tactics that Targets (bullied workers) often report include: Being shunned by co-workers and management; being treated differently than one's co-workers in a negative way (disparate treatment); being talked about behind one's back; being excluded from office celebrations, office meetings, training opportunities, lunch; being physically isolated from co-workers; having the tools to do one's job removed; excessive write-ups and performance evaluations that may include false information about the worker; being placed on a performance improvement plan; being yelled at; being criticized about work performance where co-workers and others can hear; workers are told not to talk to the Target or they will be in trouble; job duties and responsibilities taken away or increased so that the worker cannot complete their work, etc. The workplace can become so toxic that a reasonable person would consider leaving the job.

When Targets of workplace bullying/psychological harassment and abuse begin to suffer adverse health effects due to mistreatment, it is time to see the doctor. Over time, bullying can affect the body and mind. Ask your doctor for a referral to see a licensed mental health professional who can help you to cope more effectively with the issues you want to address.

What do psychologists do? According to the American Psychological Association, "psychologists can help people to learn to cope with stressful situations, overcome addictions, manage their chronic illnesses, and break past the barriers that keep them from reaching their goals." If you need help in finding a mental health professional, please read the WBI Guide to Selecting a Therapist especially written for Targets of workplace bullying.

A 2012 Bullying Health Impact Survey conducted by the Workplace Bullying Institute revealed the top 15 health problems reported by Targets:

  1. Anticipation of next negative event
  2. Overwhelming anxiety
  3. Sleep disruption (hard to get to sleep or too little sleep)
  4. Loss of concentration or memory
  5. Uncontrollable mood swings
  6. States of agitation or anger
  7. Pervasive sadness
  8. Heart palpitations
  9. Insomnia
  10. High blood pressure (hypertension)
  11. Obsession over personal circumstances
  12. Intrusive thoughts (flashbacks, nightmares)
  13. Loss of affect (flat emotional responses)
  14. Depression (diagnosed by a doctor)
  15. Migraine headaches

You wrote that you confessed to your work supervisor that you drank alcohol before going to work to control your feelings. The work supervisor then fired you on the spot. Only you know whether or not you have a problem with alcohol use. If alcohol abuse is an issue, there are self-help support groups for adults who have a drinking problem and want help and also for those who have a loved one or a friend with a drinking problem. Alcoholics Anonymous can help you find a support group.

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) publishes a Supervisor's Handbook, "Alcoholism in the Workplace" which includes the following statement: "As far as the Government as an employer is concerned, an employee's decision to drink is that individual's personal business. However, when the use or abuse of alcohol interferes with the employee's ability to perform his or her duties, the employer does have legitimate concerns, including the proper performance of duties, health and safety issues, and employee conduct at the workplace."

When you confessed to your work supervisor about drinking before work, did your work supervisor suggest or require that you see an Employee Assistance Program counselor (recommended in the OPM Supervisor's Handbook) or get counseling?

When you were working, did your job assignment include operating machinery or driving a vehicle? Did you drink every day before your work shift to calm your nerves? If you did, the supervisor would have had legitimate concerns about the performance of your work duties, health and safety issues, and your conduct on the job while under the influence.

Drinking alcohol as a coping mechanism is not a solution and only adds to a person's problems. Targets cope in many different ways. It helps to have a good support system of family and friends. Many Targets do see a licensed mental health professional for help. Although not every worker has access to affordable health care that also covers mental health care, you had health care coverage when you were working which likely included mental health care. There are Targets who walk out on the job and never go back due to the mistreatment they experienced. Some see the writing on the wall and plan their exits from the misery and find another job. If your health and well being has been affected by what you experienced, please see your primary doctor. Good health is everything.

For our readers: The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence has information on their website on the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse as well as information on how to get help.

For federal government workers, there are policies and procedures specific to their agency that must be followed when filing discrimination complaints. For example, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has a separate section on their website specifically for federal sector workers. The EEOC states the following: "If you believe that you have been discriminated against by a federal agency, you have a right to file a complaint with that agency. The first step is to contact an EEO Counselor at the agency within 45 days of the discriminatory action. The individual may choose to participate in either counseling, or in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) when the agency offers ADR. Ordinarily, counseling must be completed within 30 days and ADR within 90 days. At the end of counseling, or if ADR is unsuccessful, the individual may then file a complaint with that agency." Please note that there is no federal law that solely addresses workplace bullying, however, there are bullies that sometimes cross the line and illegally discriminate.

I am sorry to learn that you were released from your job. I would encourage you to do volunteer work in your community where you can make a difference in the lives of others. If you are seeking another job, consider signing up for classes at your local public community college where you can learn new job skills and/or upgrade the job skills that you now possess. Or, you may want to take a class of personal interest to you where you will also meet others who have the same interests.

I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented." ... Elie Wiesel, American Novelist



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This entry was posted on Friday, February 20th, 2015 at 4:30 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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