Death by Corporate Practices

More worker suicides reported at France Telecom

PARIS (Reuters) – Five employees of France Telecom (FT) have committed suicide in the past 10 days, a union official said, rekindling memories of a spate of suicides that rocked the company last year. 

The official said 23 FT employees had now killed themselves this year, compared with 19 in 2009. The rate this year is slightly ahead of the French average of 17 suicides per 100,000 people in 2006, according to World Health Organisation figures. France Telecom has 181,000 employees, with 100,000 in France.

“There have been five suicides at France Telecom in the past 10 days, committed outside the workplace,” said Sebastien Crozier of the CFE-CGC/UNSA union.

I’ve seen very little in the international news this past week about the new wave of suicides amongst France Telecom employees. Five new ones within the course of ten days is not really a number that can be easily dismissed.

Last year, Harvard Business Review published their take on the wave of suicides:

Over the last few months, there has been a public outcry over the suicides of 24 employees at France Telecom, apparently because of stress at work. The last victim, a 32-year-old former law student, threw herself out of her office window, after emailing her father a suicide note. Another said “management by terror” had driven him over the edge. “I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. That’s the only reason.”[…]

The company avoided imposing mass redundancies, but asked staff to retrain for Orange call centres and in some cases, change locations. Fairly reasonable, you might think. Yet this did not stop one worker from stabbing himself repeatedly in the stomach when he was told he was being transferred to another post in the same town.

According to some analysts, this is the first European case in modern history of workers committing suicide due to the conditions in their work environment.

“I’m going to become the 23rd staff member to commit suicide,” 32-year-old Stephanie wrote in an e-mail sent to her father just moments before she flung herself out of her fourth storey office window in September 2009.

“When I called you this morning, you said I didn’t seem quite right. You were right. My suicidal impulses are taking over again. I’ve decided to act upon them tonight,” the Parisian law graduate wrote.

“Oh, it’s pointless calling my landlord and getting him to check on me, because I’m going to end my days in the office,” she added.

“I haven’t told my boss, obviously, but I’m going to become the 23rd staff member to commit suicide. I can’t accept the new reorganisation in my department. I’m getting a new boss and I’d rather die. I’m leaving my handbag with my mobiles and keys in the office, but I’ll take my donor card with me, you never know,” she wrote.

“Aside from that, don’t forget to go to my place to pick up Zebulon and Frimousse and to feed them,” she added, referring to her pet rabbit and cat.

“I’m sorry that you had to get this kind of message but I’m more than lost.”

The note was sent at 5:10 pm on September 11, 2009. Minutes later, Stephanie dropped from her office window in a French Telecom client services office in Paris. Critically wounded, she died two hours later.

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