Stark Social Contracts

October 11, 2009

Stark Social Contracts

One of the news items this week was the resignation of a France Telecom executive. The reason was the mounting suicide rate at the company. As the story goes, 24 employees at the telecommunications giant have committed suicide since mid 2008. The furor is not about the number because it actually tracks with the norm but the the violent nature of these deaths or attempted ones. The cause of these suicides has been attributed to a restructuring program that has been ongoing over the past three years.  The executive who resigned said in an email, “My sense of self control often prevented me, perhaps wrongly, from expressing what I felt and better explaining what I was doing.”  He goes on to say he was devastated. Of course.
The downturn has created many horrific episodes although hopefully not as tragic as taking one’s life. This string of suicides is a stark reminder of how tough this struggling economy and downsizing has been on employees and how it has upended reputations of companies, executives and entire industries.

Out of curiousity, I went to the France Telecom Web site to see if anything was mentioned. I found this recent press release. How difficult must it be to communicate intelligently about something so heartwrenching . Again, a stark reminder of these hard times. 

Further to recent events, Didier Lombard is proposing a new social contract at France Telecom

Paris, September 15, 2009
Didier Lombard, France Telecom’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, met today with Xavier Darcos, the French Minister of Employment, Labour Relations, Family, Solidarity and Urban Affairs. In addition to the measures that the Group announced on Thursday September 10, new decisions were taken with a view to putting in place a strong and consistent action plan demonstrating the Group’s determination to bring an end to the series of suicides and attempted suicides that have recently affected its workforce.

The national health, safety and working conditions committee (CNSHSCT) will be meeting on Thursday next week in the presence of Jean-Denis Combrexelle, the Ministry’s Director General for Employment.

To stop the phenomenon from spreading, it has been decided to immediately put in place a freephone number to promote dialogue. Psychologists from outside the company will be available to listen to and talk with any employees who may be having difficulties.

The first meeting for the negotiations on stress will be taking place on Friday September 18. On this occasion, the employee representatives will appoint an external consultancy to conduct an audit of the situation within France Telecom.

These negotiations will focus on the prevention of stress and psychosocial risks in the event of geographical or professional mobility among staff. To address this issue, a forward-looking employment and skills management (GPEC) system will be set-up with a view to offering employees and their direct managers visibility over their professional development and support.

As previously announced, the company has decided to suspend all geographical or professional mobility programmes until October 31 in order to reexamine the conditions for their implementation. During this period, meetings will be organized between management and staff throughout France.  

Within this framework, France Telecom will be working with the French Ministry of Employment in order to ensure that the occupational health services agreement fully takes into account the prevention of psychosocial risks. Moreover, France Telecom has decided to take on new occupational health specialists, while further strengthening its local Human Resources teams.

Didier Lombard declared that he would “make every effort to ensure that a new social contract emerges following this period of negotiations and actions. December’s France Telecom will not be the France Telecom of today”.

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Leslie Gaines-Ross
Leslie Gaines-Ross

As Weber Shandwick’s Chief Reputation Strategist, I focus on the ever changing world of reputation. For the past 25 years, I have relentlessly observed, researched and commented on the rise and fall of reputations.


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