What does "Going Postal" Mean?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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The term “going postal” is often used in American slang to describe very sudden and extreme anger which often leads to violence. Although the term was initially used to refer to workplace violence, it is also used more generally as well. The consequences of such an episode of violence can sometimes be very severe and quite upsetting for victims and survivors.

The roots of the term can be found in a series of episodes of workplace violence committed by members of the United States Postal Service (USPS). The first of these incidents occurred in 1986, when 14 USPS employees were shot dead by an upset postman, who later shot himself as well. This incident was not isolated; by 1997, 40 USPS employees had been killed in their workplaces in bouts of sudden violence. While many workplaces are dangerous for other reasons, most people like to believe that they will not be endangered by their coworkers. As a result, these incidences of going postal were terrifying for many people on multiple levels, since they suggested that ordinary jobs could be deadly in the wrong circumstances.


Much to the dismay of the USPS, the term “going postal” entered American slang in the early 1990s, when a number of people commented on the sudden violence attributed to disgruntled postal workers. The USPS has tried to discourage the use of the term, arguing that such acts of violence have also been documented in other workplaces, including in the technology sector. However, this type of violence appears to be permanently associated with postal workers, who often work long and stressful hours which might lead to frustration.

Such violence is usually committed by someone who has reached a state of desperate frustration. This may be due to external factors, or to a less than congenial workplace. The behavior is often very difficult to predict, although many workplaces attempt to address disgruntled workers before they reach such levels of anger and frustration. Often, the coworkers and bystanders targeted are completely innocent victims of misplaced rage when someone goes postal.

When someone outside the workplace is extremely angry or irrational, people may also say that he or she is going postal, in a reference to their dangerous mood. When someone does go postal, they can be very difficult to reason with, which can make defusing the situation very difficult. In some cases, law enforcement receives training in dealing with people who are going postal, in the hopes that someone can be stopped and treated without injury to anyone involved. In other cases, someone may be so upset that more drastic measures such as physical or chemical restraint need to be taken.


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Post 10

The phrase "going postal" really stinks when your last name is postal. You get made fun of so much it's not even funny.

Post 9

I worked there for five years and all I can say is that no one knows what goes on in there until they experience it themselves. Jerk, incompetent "managers" on a power trip that everyone has to deal with. An employee has to put up with management who does not know what the heck they are doing even though they have been doing the exact same thing every day for years, at the least!! it is like prison. "golden handcuffs."

I made so much money but was so depressed and disappointed that I had to leave!

Post 8

The real reason people "go postal" is because they are tired of being wage-slaves and living lives of mindless-purposeless drones with no hope.

Post 7

the postal service is extremely violent. it's not close. in comparison for violence 13 percent of violence done to postal workers is committed by other postal workers, while for other workers it was 3/4 of 1 percent. so the term going postal was well earned.

Post 6

I think everybody knows that the Postal Service is less violent than the workplace in general. But when something does happen there the media exploits it and the story takes on a life of its own. The term "going postal" has been fully integrated into the English language, and is understood by practically everyone, even those who are not familiar with those unfortunate incidents.

Post 5

Hello anon34048,

Am well aware of what you are saying. Do be aware, that some few, after they get a touch of power, become absolute jerks. These few are being slowly weeded out.

Yes, many, not only postal workers, just don't get it, regards 'who pays their salary'. Consider using the free EFT program to assist you with the emotions. It does work.

Stay Well

Post 4

I *am* a postal worker. For 24 years and 7 months. My frustration never lies with the customers. It is management. I am at the counter. I am very good at fixing mail errors and such. I hate how I witness the customers being treated and cast aside by management. Management only has numbers on their minds and disregard the consequences of our misdeliveries. Errors are *never* addressed. Customers are just told they will be. The boss looks at each customer not as a supporter of his salary but an obstacle to the next task.

I am ashamed to be associated with such a terribly staffed management orginization. I *do* bring these concerns home with me. I am well known

in the community. People stop me with puzzled looks about how they have been spoken to. I am actually about to go on medication to prevent an outburst that would get me fired and inward hostility that could give me a stroke. Sorry! I tried to help everyone. Now, I will be a zombie!
Post 3

Yes, it can be a downer to be under the circumstances. Yet it just so did happen. Much overlooked though is that there is a large number of postal employee's, that are dedicated hard workers doing a fine job, under numerous not so good conditions. I write, call and complain on the 'weak' service, but I also write, call and compliment on the 'good' service.

No I don't work for the Postal Service.

Be Well.

Post 2

I am a postal employee (clerk craft) who is good matured despite working hard hours. I emphatically resent when someone jokes to me about "going postal", especially a total stranger. The postal service takes workplace violence and other types of inappropriate behavior seriously and with zero tolerance. Our workforce is *huge* and I would bet that the percentage of incidents in the postal service is way below the average incidence of all other workplace violence.

Post 1

Thanks for a very clear explanation of what is "going postal." I guess I'm the last on earth to find out what it meant. lol

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