Bullycide in Zurich?

CFO Note Reportedly Blames CEO

Anyone who doubts the seriousness of workplace bullying should read the Wall Street Journal’s  coverage of the suicide of the chief financial officer of the Swiss insurance behemoth, Zurich Insurance Group.

Zurich Board Chairman Josef Ackermann, 65, and CFO Pierre Wauthier, 53, engaged in public conflicts and disputes after Ackermann was appointed in 2012.

Last week,  Wauthier committed suicide at his lakeside home outside Zurich, Switzerland, leaving behind a wife, children and a typed note that reportedly blamed Ackermann for creating an unbearable, pressure-cooker working environment and for treating colleagues disrespectfully.

When a suicide is related to workplace bullying it is often called “bullycide.”

Ackerman , who is one of Europe’s premiere financiers, resigned the next day after reading the note to the board.  He released a public statement that said some people (reportedly Wauthier’s family) held him responsible for Wauthier’s death. He rejected the allegation.

Whether or not Ackerman, described as a hard-charging chief executive,  bullied Wauthier, it appears that Wauthier felt bullied.

There is overwhelming evidence that bullying potentially severely affects a target’s mental and physical health.   Bullycide is a word that entered the American lexicon in recent years to describe a suicide resulting from depression due to bullying.  There are other reported cases of  work-related “bullycide,” though there usually is no  definitive way of  assigning blame in such circumstances.

The United States lags far behind other industrialized countries in addressing the problem of  workplace bullying, which affects one in every four workers.  Most industrialized countries, including Europe, require employers to provide workers with a work environment that is free from emotional abuse and harassment.

Perhaps this tragedy will encourage corporate leaders in the United States to address the issue of  bullying and abuse in the workplace?

Meanwhile, Zurich‘s board is reportedly reviewing whether employees in Zurich’s finance department were subjected to excessive pressure from higher-ups.