The Surprising Origin Of The Phrase 'Going Postal'

In common parlance, for one to "go postal" has generally meant to for one to lose their temper and violently react to sources of stress, typically those in the workplace (via While this has led to a supposition of postal workers as being susceptible to such outbursts, with references to it in media such as "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" and "Seinfeld," the phrase is in fact rooted in a very real and tragic history. From 1970 to 1997, postal workers killed more than 40 people in the workplace across the U.S., and in 1993 the St. Petersburg Times (Now The Tampa Bay Times) officially coined the phrase, per Phrases. 

As most of these atrocities were isolated incidents, there is reason to believe that the working conditions postal workers are routinely faced with were a key contributing factor. As a standard part of their job postal workers are often expected to perform exceptionally laborious tasks against the backdrop of an often toxic work environment. In the aftermath of the 1991 Royal Oak shootings in Michigan, a worker admitted to an interviewer that they believed the perpetrator could have been "any of them," further saying, "I understand why he did it," (via Vice).

The root causes of workplace violence are ongoing

Many of these killings were committed by employees against management staff. The first was in 1970 when an intoxicated employee murdered a supervisor (via According to Today I Found Out, a very common sentiment among postal workers is that managers are often overtly antagonistic and provocative. That being said, there have been several instances where the victims were not managers or supervisors but friends, family members, and other employees. 

It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that killings by postal workers are not strictly a result of hierarchical animus, but a resounding failure of the workplace to address employee dissatisfaction and mental health. While it is important to clarify that only a handful of postal employees out of thousands have committed such acts, violence is an ongoing issue with the latest attack having occurred as recently as October of 2021 (via WATN). Until there is concentrated analysis and reform at the institutional level, "go postal" may be a phenomenon that persists years into the future.