Why France Telecom Suicides Never Should Have Happened

france-telecom-2You may have heard about the 24 employees at France Telecom who committed suicide because work was too stressful. I’ve been thinking a lot about this problem.

Many employees are afraid to speak up for fear of being fired or looked down upon by their peers.

France Telecom is going through a restructuring in order to stand out competitive communication industry. They are trying to trim the fat and fix the problems. This isn’t easy in France where demand for employee rights is very strong.

I was thinking about the times in the past when I was depressed and worn down by work. That’s why I quit that old job.

I really think people should quit instead of putting their lives at risk.

Too Late

The problem is that people don’t realize that something is seriously wrong until it’s too late. They feel like their life is out of their control.

It’s easy for me to say, “Just quit,” nothing is worth putting your health at risk, but that’s not fair.

I endured a lot of crap while working for some pretty awful bosses. I’ve talked about my depression at work and bullying that I endured.

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.”
– Angelique Chrisafis of The Guardian UK

We don’t think that a man would stab himself in the stomach to show his company that he is in pain. This is what happened at France Telecom. A 52 year old man stabbed himself while in a meeting to send a message.

He was not happy!

Communicate Our Feelings

We don’t communicate our feelings with each other often enough. We don’t want to get labeled as a complainer.

I don’t have the answer to this problem. A company needs to stay nimble and that may mean restructuring every few years, but how far should they go?

It’s tough to see that invisible line.

France Telecom did hire counselors, help people with moving transitions, and even helped subsidize new businesses in order to assist people in creating new careers. It still wasn’t enough.

All I know is that the leaders in companies must learn to do a better job of listening to their employees. They need to take the time to hang out and understand their concerns.

Should leaders be trained to help their employees become happy?

What do you think?

* Join over 450 people who have already subscribed to the FREE Happy at Work 10 Week eCourse. It will arrive in your inbox every Monday morning. When you need it the most. (Sign up is in the top left corner)

* Mark Silver over at the Heart of Business wrote a wonderful post called Stopping the Cycle of Violence in Business. I couldn’t agree more.

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Image courtesy of Yves Le Bail

12 thoughts on “Why France Telecom Suicides Never Should Have Happened”

  1. It seems unbelievable. I think it’s another reminder that we can slowly become the frog in the pot.

    I’m not exactly sure what the best key indicators are, although The First 90 Days does a good job of laying some out. I think it’s crucial to know how to set a threshold and know when you’re approaching the critical zone.

  2. I hadn’t heard about this tragedy until reading your post, Karl. I don’t pay attention to the media (good, bad, right or wrong; it’s just not anything I want to fill my mind with).

    I do believe that many people believe work is everything, so if that goes wrong, it probably feels like their whole lives have gone wrong. That’s one reason I wouldn’t work for a place that didn’t tell me, upfront in the interview, that they believe in work/life balance.

    I also believe that many leadership teams are woefully out of touch with the very people who are responsible for a company’s success (the employees). Employees are a voluntary army that should be respected, uplifted, and given everything they need in order to succeed. That should, in my humble opinion, include moral-boosting of some sort. Either happiness training, recognition & reward programs… Or something!

    Thanks for shining a light on this, and here’s hoping your efforts can reach far and wide enough to open people’s eyes that suicide is not the way.

  3. Hi Karl! I hadn’t heard about this either until reading your post. It would be an ideal world if people could realize that they are NOT their job. How you get people educated in this vein would have to happen, obviously, early in life. This was indeed a tragic display of people not getting this and it is all too easy to blame the company. I’m with you, just quit, but maybe we have a better understanding of who we really are and have a healthy respect for that?

  4. Hi Karl

    Like Megan I don’t pay attention to the news and did not hear about it, but the idea is not foreign to me. When I used to teach, I explored with students the happiness of our population today and there were examples that we discussed of Japan and China where it was common for employees to commit suicide because they were so overworked and they saw no other way out.

    It is too bad and like you said these things don’t need to happen. The more we know the better we can approach things and hopefully all people can be empowered to know that there are always other options.

  5. Company leaders must always consider the welfare of the employees as such is important for the well-being of the company itself.

    However, an employee committing suicide because he’s not happy is another story. We are creating our own turmoils, if we allow such inner turmoils to control our lives then it will eat us alive.

    Perhaps the employee was not happy with himself, blamed the management for this and ended his life to escape from misery.

  6. I know how stressful a job can be, but suicide is never the answer. You are right. We can’t blame anyone for our pain. We need to find a way to make ourselves happy. If that means quitting and going to live with a family member because we can’t make payments on our house so be it.

  7. I think it says something about French Telecom that they allowed 24 employees to commit suicide without a thorough review of their employees, management practicies and mandatory mental health training and proactive assistance.

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