Within the last eighteen months there have been twenty-three suicides among the employees of France Telecom, Europe’s third largest telecommunications company, the latest occurring on September 11th by a 32-year-old woman who jumped from her office window in Paris.
There is now an investigation under way, and just one day before the latest suicide France telecom had said that it was postponing the company’s reorganization until October the 31st and they were going to increase medical staff by 10 percent.
Because of the problem of suicide in the company, the Chief Executive Officer of France Telecom, Didier Lombard met with the French Labor Minister, Xavier Darcos. Darcos asked the staff of France Telecom to begin having talks with staff representatives to learn to detect signs of distress and suicide.
The reorganization is the cause many contribute to the suicides. Because of the notes that people left behind and the places in which they chose to commit their suicide, it is apparent that unhappiness and stress in the workplace did play a role.
But I ask, musn’t this just be a trigger for an already existing problem? Or can a job really push an otherwise happy and normal person to ending his or her own life?
I spoke with some people I know in France, one who works for France Telecom and another who does not. The one who does work there told me, when I asked about it, that indeed the environment at France Telecom had become very strange. The other reported that he heard that the reason people were having such a hard time is because the majority of the employees there were of civil servant status — meaning that France Telecom could not fire them, or would at least have a very difficult time doing so. Therefore, in order to try to convince them to leave on their own account the company would do things like make them sit in strange places in the office, like small corner cubicles and give them dreadful jobs that they’d find unpleasant.
Personally, I think I would leave such a post before I became suicidal but I understand what might keep a person at such a job, as the salary is surely regulated and perhaps there is a retirement benefit to look forward to, or at the least job security. This situation reminds me of the situation here in the States some years ago with postal workers, which spurred the popular phrase “going postal,” which means that someone becomes insane and hurts others. Also, a person’s job becomes part of their identity and often that’s hard to let go.
On a more positive note, out of France Telecom’s 100,000 plus employees, those suicides represent something close to the national average for suicides, which is 17.6 per 100,000.
France Telecom Employee Suicides Prompt Action
By Gregory Viscusi and Matthew Campbell
Sept 15, Bloomberg