Article in IDG Connect - Fox News bullying comment: Bullied or bully?

This article appeared in IDG Connect on February 12, 2015

In this contributed piece, Andrew Faas, author of ‘The Bully’s Trap’ discusses the recent Phillip Perea news story.

A new study by Joel Goh, a Harvard Associate Professor, finds that more than 120,000 deaths [PDF] may be attributable to workplace stress. This was nowhere more overt than on January 26th 2015, when Phillip Perea, a former Fox News promotions producer in Austin, Texas fatally shot himself in front of the building in New York which houses the Fox headquarters.

Just before he committed suicide, Perea posted his final grievances against Fox News linking to more than 30 YouTube videos published over the last few months airing his complaints against Fox. AOL News reported that the videos in 'The American Workplace Bully: How Fox News Ended My Career', paint the picture of a “disgruntled” employee who believes he was outed as part of a master plot against him.

Based on the absence of coverage this story has received, it is apparent that the media, including Fox, accepts the assessment that Perea was “disgruntled” and became unhinged. Because of the lack of analysis and coverage, he becomes, just another statistic!

This silence by the media is troublesome and unfortunate as much can be learned from this.

After reading the various reports of the suicide and listening to the many hours of postings Perea made over the last few months, I am convinced that his tragic end could have been avoided. 

One in four adults have a mental health condition. Most, with proper diagnosis and treatment can lead healthy, active, productive and satisfying lives. All too many, however, do not recognize what is happening to them and many of those who do, do not seek the help they need. Coping with workplace stress is particularly difficult for people who have an untreated mental health condition. Most organizations are not properly equipped to deal with those who have trouble coping. Also in many instances, workplace cultures trigger an existing mental health condition or create one. Most who are bullied at work, suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Unfortunately the organizational response is to “get rid of the problem”.

In Perea's extensive chronicles, he comes across as a troubled, difficult, frustrated and spiteful employee who uses bullying tactics to make his case that he is a victim. What is difficult to determine is what gave rise to the problems he faced at work. In my view, when people try to deal with bullying situations alone they usually fall into a trap, going from a solid employee to a poor performer with a bad attitude, becoming the villain. Perea may have fallen into the trap.

Fox News reported that Perea was with the organization for 10 months suggesting that he may have been a poor hire. No mention is made of the fact that prior to joining the Austin affiliate he worked at their Seattle affiliate, and during his time there he was nominated for several regional Emmy awards. It is very possible that Perea's problems existed before he transferred to Austin. 

Based on the secret tapes made by Perea of disciplinary meetings, it appears that local management tried to help him. One of the critical issues raised (without specifics), was a concern by management that Perea made other workers uncomfortable and fearful. At this point local management should have elevated the situation to corporate headquarters and sought professional help. Perea did indicate an Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), however, it is now apparent that he suffered from something far more serious and required more help than what local management could provide. 

Perea is not just a statistic. He committed suicide, perhaps because, as he claims, he was bullied. If that is the case a crime has been committed and the organization, and/or the bullies, need to be held accountable. Local management may have been the bullies, if not, they need to be exonerated from the charges leveled against them by Perea. But what were the indicators that Perea was a danger to himself and others?

This sad story needs to be told. Fox News would be well advised to commission an independent investigation in the matter to answer some of the questions raised. By doing so, what is learned here can avoid catastrophic outcomes there and elsewhere and help organizations properly deal with similar situations.