In the Chapter in “Execution to die for”on the management of change, I referred to the case of French Telecom. Over a two year period, 35 employees of the Company committed suicide and many of these left suicide notes blaming French Telecom for their decisions to end their lives.
Here’s the extract from the book:
“Unfortunately even-handedness and reasonableness is totally lacking in some of the restructuring that has taken place around the world in recent years. I am appalled and horrified at the stories I read about the stress and hardships inflicted on staff in the name of restructuring. The combination of advances in information technology and privatisation is a potent force for management excesses.”
“In October 2009, the world’s press was full of news that 25 employees of France Telecom had committed suicide since the beginning of 2008. During this period the company made another 22,000 people redundant, bringing to 40,000 the number of employees shed since its privatisation in 1998. One employee in his suicide note referred to “management by terror”, another wrote that she “was getting a new boss and I’d rather die”.”
“In April 2009, the company’s chief executive said in a letter to shareholders that the company had added 12 million new customers in 2008 and had met all of its objectives for the year confirming that it was “equipped to withstand the impact of a very unstable environment”. But at what price was this commercial goal achieved?”
“The initial response of France Telecom was to maintain that the suicide rate among its employees was no more than the national average. It was then pointed out to the company that the reasons given by employees for their decision to end their lives referred to the stress at work caused by individual, performance based evaluations and such policies as the “principle of mobility” that forced managers to move to new branch offices every three years. The former had led to a workplace climate of “every man for himself”.”
“When employees feel harassed at work, they are less likely to confide in colleagues or seek help. “It is a kind of great loneliness that settles in the workplace”, commented Christophe Dejours, a psychiatrist and occupational health expert. Two questions need to be asked. Could the same commercial result have been achieved without the above consequences? And if it could not, is it morally right and ethical that commercial performance should come at such a price?”
Due to pressure exerted by the unions and politicians, Didier Lombard, the CEO, was forced to step down from the job before his tenure was up. He has now been indicted by a French court over allegations that he led a corporate culture of bullying and harassment that resulted in the aforementioned deaths. In addition to the 35 employees, another 22,000 lost their jobs in the same period. Does restructuring come at any price? I think not…