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Suicide Count Rises to 24 at France Telecom/Orange - 'French Touch' Managers Cause Untold Suffering

Business  (tags: France Telecom, CEO Didier Lombard, suicides, wave, restructuring programme, former state monopoly, competitive multinational, forty-thousand jobs gone, profitability, stress, downgrading, humiliation, work conditions, French society, shock, media )

- 3585 days ago -
Employee jumped off a bridge today just >2 wks since 9/11 suicide, after which company bowed to govt pressure to adopt more humane management methods. He laid blame directly with company. Unions demanding end to site closures, layoffs & forced relocations


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LucyKaleido S (82)
Monday September 28, 2009, 2:35 pm
There was much more coverage after the 23rd suicide, a 32-year-old worker who threw herself to her death from her office window. Two days earlier another employee had attempted suicide after hearing he was being downgraded to a position of less responsibility, stabbing himself in the belly in front of other staff during a management meeting. Some have left notes blaming job stress and misery at work.

You have to go back to the articles that came out around Sept 12 & 13 to get the background & discussions of the causes. The Guardian reported: "Trade union representatives at the company have blamed restructuring cuts, extreme pressure, bullying and poor management methods – which, they say, have worsened since (the 1998) privatisation."

The BBC reported : Twenty-three employees of France Telecom have killed themselves since the beginning of 2008.

Unions blame tough management methods at the multinational, which was privatised in 1998.

But France Telecom says the rate of suicides is statistically not unusual for a company with a 100,000 workforce.

According to the World Health Organization, France had an annual suicide rate of 26.4 for 100,000 men in 2008. The rate for women was 9.2 suicides per 100,000.

The latest suicide occurred on Friday, when a 32-year-old woman leapt to her death at a France Telecom office in Paris.

On Wednesday, a 49-year-old man in Troyes, east of Paris, plunged a knife into his own stomach during a meeting in which he had been told he was being transferred.

He is being treated in hospital.

Mr Darcos is to meet France Telecom chief executive Didier Lombard early next week, a spokesman for the labour ministry announced on Saturday.

The unions say a never-ending drive for efficiency is causing emotional havoc in the workforce - especially among older employees recruited when France Telecom was part of the public sector.

Since privatisation in 1998 some 40,000 jobs have gone, and unions say there is pressure on many employees either to leave or to accept new working conditions.

The management of France Telecom denies that there has been a sudden increase in the suicide rate.

It points out that in the year 2000 there were 28 suicides in the company - a figure which it says is statistically not unusual.

France Telecom says most suicides are prompted by personal, not professional, causes.

However, a BBC correspondent in Paris says the firm concedes that the cultural and organisational changes required by the move from French public monopoly to a competitive multinational were bound to cause stress.

After the latest cases it has promised to hire more counselling staff and to suspend internal job transfers pending new talks with the unions.

France 24 has two videos in English, which are both on this page (just scroll down for the 2nd):
State intervenes as suicides mount at France Telecom

LucyKaleido S (82)
Monday September 28, 2009, 2:41 pm
"Management by Terror" (my title for this

excerpt from the 9/9/09 Guardian article, "Wave of staff suicides at France Telecom):

On 29 August, a 53-year-old France Telecom technician and father of three killed himself in Lannion in Brittany. Colleagues and trade unionists blamed his death on difficulties surrounding his rank within the company and "infantile" management procedures.

Earlier in August, a 28-year-old worker was found dead in his garage in Besançon in the east of France. He had left a note that talked of his girlfriend, but also mentioned how he felt "helpless" and "angry" over issues at work. The prosecutor said it was impossible to formally establish a link between France Telecom and the suicide, but workers held a protest march over his death.

On 14 July, another 52-year-old employee killed himself in Marseille, leaving behind a note blaming "overwork" and "management by terror". He wrote: "I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. That's the only reason."

Pierre Gojat, head of a trade union stress watchdog at the company, said he was "scandalised by [this] latest act of despair" after the Troyes worker stabbed himself. France Telecom issued a statement, saying the employee's life "was not in danger" and that he had been offered another post in the same town and at the same level.

Earlier this week, the company's director of human resources told Le Monde it was "too simplistic" to affirm a simple cause and effect relationship between issues at work and the staff deaths. He said experts had told the company that suicides were usually caused by various factors, rather than one unique problem.

Twenty-nine France Telecom staff took their own lives in 2002 and another 22 in 2003. The French Democratic Confederation of Labour (CFDT) union said 22 France Telecom staff had killed themselves since February 2008.

In 2007, a French prosecutor opened an inquiry into working conditions at carmaker Renault after suicides at one of its factories.

LucyKaleido S (82)
Monday September 28, 2009, 3:30 pm
From a NYTimes article, Jan 1991:

So great is the taste here for calming and antidepressant medicines, a new report says, that for the last decade the French on average have consumed three times more of such drugs than their neighbors in Britain and Germany.

What is more, the French are now reported to be swallowing mood-altering drugs at a rate far greater than the rest of the Europe and the United States.

"We already held the European record for alcohol consumption," said the magazine Science and Life. "Now we have been promoted to become the most tranquilized country on earth." Health Officials Disturbed

The matter has not been easy to digest in a nation that has always prided itself on pursuing the path of reason and the art of living. It has deeply disturbed health officials and social researchers who say the phenomenon so far has defied definitive explanation. (I just don't understand why they don't correlate this info with the number of layoffs, transfers, company closures, and working conditions !)

As the debate over the "sedation" of France widens, the blame is passed around. One study chides doctors, arguing that rather than taking the time to listen to their patients, they prescribe tranquilizers instantly and routinely, even though such pills can lead to dependency, drowsiness and memory loss.

"The patients demand it," said Dr. Christiane Lorphelin, a gynecologist in the posh l6th Arrondissement. "If you don't give those medicines, they'll go to another doctor."

On the other hand, a panel of physicians advising the Government has pointed its finger at the pharmaceutical industry and its powerful propaganda battery, which "is based on 15,000 agents who visit doctors" and on "massive publicity in the specialized press." In its report last year, the panel referred gingerly to the "direct and indirect subsidies" that pharmaceutical companies provide to doctors.

But in private, one member of the panel, a senior physician, said that many doctors had allowed themselves "to be led by the big laboratories." Some of these, he said, had "questionable practices" like paying doctors a fee for trying medicines on patients or laying on trips to a far-off tropical resort where the company will launch a new product and invite doctors and their spouses over, all expenses paid.

A nationwide survey showed that people swallowed more pills if they lived in small places of under 5,000 inhabitants and in mega-cities like Paris and Lyons, leaving those in between apparently feeling fewer stresses and strains.

The biggest consumers are women, who gulp down mood-changing drugs at twice the rate of men. Dr. Lorphelin, the gynecologist, argued that this was logical "because the life of Frenchwomen is very difficult." Women carry double loads, what with jobs, household tasks, children and shopping. "Frenchmen rarely help in the home," she said, "and women suffer terrible media pressure to stay beautiful and young, which is unmanageable."

Some health officials want to start a campaign to wean the French off the load of sedatives and there is talk of a crackdown through the national health system, which pays out millions of dollars for the pills.

But in this country, with its robust sense of privacy and secrecy, the issue remains touchy. The magazine Science and Life found this out when it first rang the alarm bell in 1989 and published a private market analysis, prepared for the pharmaceutical industry. The magazine was criticized by the Minister of Justice, sued by the analysts and fined $12,000 in court for publishing "confidential information."

LucyKaleido S (82)
Monday September 28, 2009, 11:57 pm
"The magazine was criticized by the Minister of Justice, sued by the analysts and fined $12,000 in court for publishing "confidential information." -- The nytimes writer is bending over backwards here by describing this as France's "robust sense of privacy & secrecy" -- I would just call it an flagrant example of muzzling the press, even worse since it is a question of PUBLIC HEALTH !

Did France decide to sacrifice press freedom & freedom of expression to protect the interests of the pharmaceutical industry ? Is this justice?

LucyKaleido S (82)
Monday October 5, 2009, 10:20 pm

Latest developments from the Guardian:

The deputy chief executive of France Telecom today resigned in the wake of a spate of staff suicides that unions have blamed on a bullying management style and brutal approach to restructuring.

The former state monopoly, now Europe's third-biggest phone company, has seen its brand name, Orange, suffer a public relations disaster as 24 workers have killed themselves in shocking circumstances in the last 18 months, with at least a dozen others making failed attempts to take their lives. Some staff were found dead in their workplace or left harrowing notes blaming the company for "management by terror" and bullying.

In the latest death, a 51-year-old threw himself off a bridge in the Alps after being moved from a back-office job to one in a call centre. Previously, a 32-year-old jumped from her office in front of colleagues at the end of the working day. Both left notes blaming unbearable working conditions and enforced job changes.

After weeks of public outcry and calls by the socialist opposition for the scalps of the company's leadership, France Telecom's number two, Louis-Pierre Wenes, today stepped down.

Nicknamed "cost-killer", Wenes was the mastermind behind a restructuring and modernisation drive to cut costs by €1.7bn (£1.55bn) by the end of 2011. Under government pressure, France Telecom has put in place measures to monitor and counsel staff thought to be suicidal, and temporarily frozen 500 employee transfers that were part of the restructuring plans. That freeze was today extended until the end of the year.

The company was last night in talks with unions, which have maintained calls for two days of strike action this week in protest at the working conditions and restructuring plans. Unions welcomed the departure of Wenes but said it must be followed by a change in management style. Sebastien Crozier, of the CGC-UNSA union, said: "We think that conditions have now been met for a change of strategy."

Didier Lombard, the France Telecom chairman and chief executive who has warned of a "spiral of death" at the company, has retained his post and the backing of the French state, which still owns a 27% stake.

Lombard has been criticised by unions for his poor choice of language in describing a "suicide trend" at France Telecom. The company was further embarrassed today when the website Mediapart released a video showing Lombard telling a management meeting this year that "those who think they can just stick to their routine and not worry about a thing are sorely mistaken".

He went on to suggest that staff outside Paris spent their time at the beach, fishing for mussels, adding those days were "over". France Telecom brushed off Lombard's comments as a joke between colleagues. With the company adamant that its restructuring must continue if it is to compete with European rivals, Wenes was replaced by Stéphane Richard, a former chief of staff at the French finance ministry and a close friend of President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A spokesman for Sarkozy's ruling UMP party welcomed Wenes's resignation as "a very important move".

France Telecom has 100,000 employees in France, many of whom still have protected civil servant contracts. Unions have warned some staff with secure public sector status find their working conditions are made miserable and that they are deliberately rotated or demoted to spur them to resign. The company laid off some 22,000 people between 2006 and 2008.

The company has agreed to the French labour ministry's order that an official monitor its health and safety meetings in the wake of the suicides.

Marion Y (322)
Monday October 12, 2009, 11:04 am
Horrendous. We will hear about more of these suicides as large organizations who operate this way let go of large amounts of employees.

I once worked for a major corporation whose name I am not at liberty to identify. I worked for over 16 years with them, going through 6 downsizings fearing each time I'd be next. At each downsizing, the remaining workers assumed the workload of those who left. Slave labor. I worked 12-16 hour days while raising my 3 daughters alone. I didn't have sense to see a psychiatrist and suffered in silence until I finally quit when I could take no more.

I'm so sorry to hear this is happening in France too. I guess the US isn't the only one dealing with these inhumane conditions.


LucyKaleido S (82)
Tuesday October 13, 2009, 1:54 am
Big French corporations have had repeated downsizings since the 80s. I used to teach English to staff members at French companies, and often heard people, my students, complaining about their workload expanding to include that of former colleagues who'd been made redundant & had to leave.

Some of these companies had set up lovely resource centers for those taking English courses, a considerable investment (made before downsizing) as part of the language program worked out by the training company I worked for. It was expected that staff take advantage of the videos, audio cassettes, books, Sky News or CNN, etc. put at their disposition to enable them to make better progress in English.

However, during the early 90s, people no longer dared avail themselves of the resource centers: 'if my boss found out I had the time to go listen to an English cassette, or go catch the news on CNN, he'd think I didn't have enough work, he'd think I'm not being kept busy enough!' or words to that effect was a comment I often heard.

My company ultimately went out of business because companies were no longer willing to invest in language training that included resource centers and demanded time from the participants. They started out by getting rid of two of us, I was one of the first 2 to go, but within a year or so the company went under.

As it was, the classes, which by law, are supposed to be scheduled DURING working hours, were more often than not held during lunch breaks or in the evening.

Marion Y (322)
Tuesday October 13, 2009, 7:49 am
You know first hand the horrors of corporate downsizing. The practice and effects are more widespread than I could have imagined.

The 1980s is when downsizing started in the US too. I would imagine the big French companies were prosperous, as were the US companies that did this. As the downsizings occurred, CEO and upper management salaries skyrocketed. These organizations began hiring contract help to replace employees. This reduced the cost of salaries and they no longer had to provide benefits as they did with employees. It was also the start of a decline in product quality and customer service.

Treating workers as disposable resources and not humans who deserve equal pay for a day's work, along with benefits for their long term security, ensures a greater divide between the haves and have-nots.

The strength of a nation is determined by the character of the people ~ Calvin Coolidge

LucyKaleido S (82)
Tuesday October 13, 2009, 8:32 am
"Treating workers as disposable resources and not humans" that's exactly where it's at !

What you call contract help is called 'temporary work' here and, thus, the rise of the temporary job agencies which have prospered, as employers refuse hiring in accordance with French labor legislation which gives some job security and/or at least requires severance packages.

There were big demonstrations and strikes here a few years back because Sarkozy invented a new type of contract that comes with a TWO-YEAR probation period tacked on, as opposed to the previous 3 months, after which new employees were either dropped or hired on an unlimited basis.

If you were against this, supporters attacked with, 'but isn't having a job more important than making a fuss about a longer probation period?' and 'See? The unemployed just don't want to work? Otherwise, they wouldn't oppose a system that will increase job offers...'
The govt had an awful line: that workers need to become 'modern' and 'flexible.'

Detractors pointed out that with a two-year probation period, banks wouldn't consider people to have a steady job, and new employees would have to put their lives on hold -not being able to get a mortgage, for example, or any kind of loan - until the job had become permanent. There were fears that many employers would simply use people for two years and then drop them. If not, why wouldn't they simply hire in the traditional way?

This was before the economic crisis- now there are many more unemployed & far fewer offers. I don't know what percentage of available jobs are being filled on the basis of the 'new' contract.

LucyKaleido S (82)
Thursday October 15, 2009, 10:48 am
There has been a 25th suicide, but it is not being reported -- there's a blackout on information!

However, I just saw a clip on a minor TV channel (la 5/channel 5) which was purported to show Didier Lombard, the France Telecom chairman and chief executive, on a much-publicized 'communication campaign' trip to a France Telecom call center, which was supposed to show, journalists convened to attend, how Lombard is taking care of employees wellfare, how he has their welfare at heart. Instead, a bfmtv journalist took advantage of the visit for a brief interview with an employee at the call center: I suppose she didn't expect him to break down in tears, when questioned about the wave of suicides in the company and the fact that he himself finds himself manning a telephone in a call center after 30 years with the company. The worst, though, is to come, for after she finishes the interview and moves on, you see (when it isn't cut off, as it is on the Dailymotion version of the bfmtv clip, but not the version channel 5 showed) CEO Lombard just behind her, making some comment and laughing. This may be the end of Lombard's career !! I can't wait till YouTube or DailyMotion has the complete clip, so I can post it here.
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