Thursday, April 15, 2010

More Trouble for France Telecom

It appears that the situation at France Telecom regarding the rash of suicides over the last two years has resulted in more trouble for the communications company.  Late last week, French prosecutors ordered a preliminary investigation into whether the company should be charged with involuntary homicide over its management practices, which have been blamed for 35 suicides over the past two years.  [story]

Besides the obvious sadness surrounding the situation, this action by the French government opens the issue of the accountability of companies over the way its managers treat employees.  In the U.S., there have been numerous trials related to harassment and mental anguish caused by companies and/or individuals in supervisory roles.  To my knowledge, though, there has been none related to something of this magnitude - holding a company accountable for the suicides of its employees.

I'm sure many French companies (as well as French divisions of global companies) will be watching the progress of this investigation to better understand what effect it may have on their own situations.

There has been much written about the positive effects that management practices can have on employee productivity, absenteeism, and company profitability.  We don't spend a lot of time, however, on the stress, depression, and other negative effects that company culture or management style can have on employees.

Whether or not the suicides are found to be the result of company practices (I'm sure the investigation will take years to complete), I hope that this situation highlights the need for all organizations to focus on creating a positive environment for employees and the benefits it can bring to all stakeholders.

France Telecom executives have begun to address some of the cultural issues at the company that are being blamed for the suicides.  Whatever the outcome of the investigation, it is a sad situation that hopefully will never repeat itself.

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