Work Related Suicides at France Télécom, a Major French Telecommunications Company
In the field of human factors the effects of work related stressors (environmental, social or psychological) on performance accidents, errors and the overall mental health of the employees are well established. Research suggests that job stress might also result in serious mental health difficulties that can result in suicide. Employees’ suicide is a result of a complex interaction between individual vulnerabilities, stressful working conditions and the social environment.
In September of 2009, the press reported that twenty-three employees of France Télécom have killed themselves since the beginning of 2008 (BBC, 2 September 2008). France Télécom SA provides consumers and businesses with telecommunications services, including fixed telephony and mobile telecommunications, data transmission, Internet and multimedia, and other value-added services. The company employs 100,000 people in France. According to the Wall Street Journal, citing the World Health Organization, the average suicide rate in France is 26.4 per 100,000 men and 9.2 per 100,000 women (WSJ, Sept. 15, 2009). Although the suicide rate at Télécom seems to be in line with the suicides in France over the past decades. The Wall Street Journal reported that France Télécom SA decided to “train all of its 22,000 managers to identify staffers showing signs of depression or erratic behavior”.
In unprecedented news, the French newspapers “Le Monde” and “Le Parisien” cited a report submitted to the Court in the City of Besancon that revealed that the suicide of a France Télécom employee, in 2009 was “related to work” and the “company management was aware of the high risk” and “did not take the sufficient preventive measure”.
Consequently “Le Monde” reports that the L'inspection générale des affaires sociales (IGAS), a French regulatory agency, recommended that France Télécom classifies the three cases of employees’ suicides as work related accidents.
This case again underlines the fact that the social and organizational changes on the enterprise, especially during the economic crises and high unemployment period, have a huge impact on the mental health of employees and their well being at work, and should be focused on more among the human factors and ergonomics professionals community.
“French unease at telecom suicides”, BBC, Sept., 12, 2009.
France Télécom épinglé pour "mise en danger délibérée" de la vie d'autrui,” March, 12, 2010.
France Télécom Addresses Suicides,” Sept 15, 2009.
“Un rapport de l’inspection du travail accuse l’opérateur d’être en partie responsable du suicide d’un de ses agents dans le Doubs,” Le Parisien, March12, 2010.
The Applied Human Factors and Ergonomics International NEWS - April 2010 - Number 19