Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The tragic cost of company restructuring at France Telecom

The female employee of France Telecom’s Orange subsidiary who threw herself out of a fourth floor window last week was the company’s 23rd suicide in the last 18 months. She had just attended a meeting to discuss a reorganisation of the customer service department she worked in. As Management Today has reported, it’s hardly surprising that the French government, which still owns a quarter of the company, has stepped in to reassure staff that the problem is being addressed. The company’s Trade Unions put the blame for these alarming statistics firmly at the door of France Telecom’s 'modernisation' programme, which has seen 22,000 jobs lost and 10,000 people change jobs (often from a technical to a customer service or sales role). Other employees have taken dramatic action when being told that their jobs are changing; last week a technician stabbed himself in the stomach in protest at being moved into a new role.

A spokesman for France Telecom pointed out that France as a whole has a high suicide rate, of 17.8 per 100,000 people. But since that's about the number of people France Telecom employs, its suicide rate is clearly well above average, and definitely high enough to cause serious concern. The company has promised to bring a temporary halt to its restructuring programme while it introduces measures to deal with workplace stress. The good news for French HR professionals is that France Telecom is recruiting a number of them.

France Telecom forced to account for human cost of restructuring

  • What action would you expect the HR team in France Telecom to be taking following these events?
  • How might France Telecom have anticipated its employees reacting in such a dramatic fashion?
  • What are your views on the restructuring which has led to so many employees being required to change jobs?
  • What actions do many organisations take to minimise workplace stress?
  • As this latest even was the 23rd suicide in 18 months, should the company have taken action earlier and, if so, what?


  1. Hi Graham,

    The obvious thing would have been to lock all the windows!!

    However, on a more serious note, working for an organisation that 1) has lots of windows and 2) has gone through much change over the last few years – this blog strikes a cord. As a company we have, for many years, had links with and promoted the services of a 24/7 counselling service. As a HR professional it is useful to be able to provide employees with a confidential number that they can call to talk through whatever problems they may be facing. In complex cases it is easy for HR to be seen as a pseudo counsellor – so being able to gently point someone in the direction of a professional is ideal. In addition it is a useful resource for managers who are struggling to know how to deal with/relate to colleagues who have particular issues.

    I guess one organisation can’t change the cultural norms of a country and equally they shouldn’t be in a position where employees can point the proverbial gun at the corporate head. But if they can at least provide access to professional help and support the maybe the windows can stay open.

  2. Anonymous:

    Thanks for the considered repsonse! I did somewhat dig a pit for myself to fall into with the opening question, didn't I!

    I totally agree with your comment about HR sometimes being regarded as pseudo counsellors, and have experience of working with organisations where an online professional counselling service is made available. I guess that this is something that might be beyond the means of smaller organisations, but the employee feedback tends to be very favourable in those companies that have gone down this path.

    Hopefully today's weather will allow your windows to stay open too!

  3. Let's hope that both the weather and the level of contentment with the world is such that no-one is tempted to jump out of any windows today - from whatever height!