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Employees are the main asset of organizations today. Many studies show that the happier employees are, the better the performance of the company. The organization in a company is very important and can do the difference between the companies which operate in the same market. However France télécom did not understand the importance of this part of the company. In the years 2000 France télécome was pointed out by the news due to the number of suicide of employees inside the company.
It will explain what was their initial policy about the organization of the company and how they manage to improve the situation until having a respectful organizational behavior. After a short description of the company. there will be an analysis of their way of managing but moreover about the worked environment of the company and the atmosphere which terrify the employees. Then there will be a part about the lack of motivation of the employee due to the management of the board. The third part raises concern the team atmosphere and the pressure applies on the employees. And finally the last part deals with the diversity and the fact they arrived to change their way of manage the employees inside the company.
Description of the case
France Télécom is a French multinational mobile operator, one of the few gigantic companies in the telecommunications fields, providing Internet access and phone subscriptions to more than 300 million clients in 35 countries. The company was created in 1988 and now employs about 170 000 people. It has become the largest telecommunication corporation in Europe and the second largest in the world with a turnover of about 45,5 billion euros in 2011. Indeed, France Telecom operates all over Europe under the brand Orange, but is also the owner of major telecommunication companies around the globe.
In France, this company was talked about in the press in the years 2008 and 2009 because held responsible for the suicide wave that followed a restructuring plan. Although the figures might vary from one source to another, it is said that roughly 40 suicides were reported in less than two years. The people who committed suicide or attempted to do so for that matter, were generally well-adjusted people whose working methods had been completely turned upside down by the arrival of new technologies in their company. As a matter of fact, France telecom's employees have been overwhelmed by a too fickle environment in terms of methodology.
The string of suicides can be traced back to 2005, when the company presented the "NExT" plan, a recovery plan for the years to come that aimed at reducing costs especially by diminishing salaries expenses and implementing a converging policy for its products and services. This huge restructuring plan enabled France Telecom to reduce its number of employes by more than 10%. These large cuts in budget and workforce represent what could be seen as an incredibly aggressive management style at that time. That year, they cut 22,000 jobs and changed the job descriptions of another 10,000. There were 29 suicides among France Telecom employees in 2002, 22 in 2003, 12 in 2008 but they received very little publicity.
The former head of France Telecom SA, Didier Lombard, who was placed under investigation for his role in the spate of suicides, said that he rejected the idea that "plans vital to the survival of the company might have been the cause of human tragedies." On July 5th 2012, it was announced that other executives, including the former head of Human Resources, were being placed under investigation as well. Besides harassment, the management of France Telecom is also being investigated for preventing the functioning of the company and going against workers' hygiene and safety needs.
Market rigidities due to French laws concerning layoffs, it was difficult for France Telecom to let go long-standing telecoms workers. Instead, the company adopted "bullying" tactics to encourage unwanted workers to leave the company.
The late employees of France Telecom have blamed their work environment and working conditions in the letters they left for their families and friends, using words such as "psychological harassment", "management of terror" and "an obsession for results".
An investigation revealed a "very poor general feeling", "strained physical and mental health", and a "tense and even violent working environment" for some categories of personnel.
Even an intervention of the French government, which holds 27% of the company's shares, was necessary to stop this disastrous situation. The Labour Minister of the time ordered the company's chief executives to get out of their offices and go out in the field to hear employee complaints face-to-face.
1. Competition / Environment / Pressure / Learning
The company passed from state monopoly into global telecommunications giant. The constant managerial and market pressure made the working environment at France Telecom unbearable.
It appears that from 2005 until 2010, France Télécom's employees had been forced into doing jobs they did not feel related to, tasks they were not trained to do, and transferred overnight to offices far from home. They have complained that they were under constant pressure to quit from managers.
The corporate culture at France Télécom was questioned in the medias as soon as the "suicides case" started to make noise. The suicides were blamed on a management obsession with profit and productivity targets. That companies have to deal with major changes, that's normal, but that it leads to people's deaths ?
At France Télécom, there was no feeling of belonging that linked people together. This lead to high levels of absenteeism, stress-related illness, family issues, and more dangerous : accidents and suicides.
In this high pressure and high changing environment, employees have opportunities of learning but what is the point if it doesn't contribute to a general feeling of fulfillment of the employees ?
When entering the company 20 years ago, they thought they would be working in the same city, with the same people, and climb the hierarchical ladder as they got older. Instead, after a few weeks training, they got thrown into call centers where only the sales levels count and where they were in constant competition with the others.
It seems that the management at France Télécom was using the "Operant Strategy" in a derived way. Instead of trying to modify the behavior of their employees through positive or negative consequences, they were using this strategy to disgust them in order to make them leave the company.
This is completely the opposite of what a good management team is supposed to do, which is to influence the employees so that they give the best of themselves at work, in a favourable environment. It is the responsibility of anyone in a supervisory position to create a positive environment for those on his or her team. A good leader also has to like his or her employees, not try to have them quit their job by the end of the month.
Rewarding employees' achievements, providing job challenges, offering coaching and counselling are the bases of social learning. Setting goals is also a major aspect of management that guides and directs people's behaviors. It reduces stress, conflicts and ambiguity, improves performance ; and was most certainly not the principal concern of France Télécom's management team.
As the environment at France Télécom was not favourable to interaction between employees and managers, a Management By Objectives Program (one of the best methods for long term performance) was not an option. Some employees say that they "should not have been just abandoned like that, without personal guidance."
People have personality preferences that have implications for their learning process.
However, how can the needs of the employees be met in such a changing environment ? Those who look for meaning attempt to have a global view on a subject are frustrated. Those look for more details and applications can never apply them.
Work stress is caused by factors in the work environment as well as external pressures that spill over into the workplace. They can come from task, role, interpersonal or physical demands. One of the most complex work-related causes of stress is role conflict.
At France Télécom, employees often did not know what their role in the company was, which produced a lot of stress for them. And as said earlier, stress has a cost associated with absenteeism, tardiness, and sometimes even strikes or work stoppages, which of course influence the turnover of the company.
Didier Lombard, admitted in September 2009 that he had "made mistakes, which has increased the stress on my employees".
"My colleague's death will change nothing. For Didier Lombard [the CEO of France Telecom], we are just pawns. We mean nothing. He says that we are just suicide fashion victims, copying one another. But things cannot go on like this. It is one suicide too many."
Anne-Marie, committed suicide
Stress comprises health risks and psychological problems in the long run. It can sometimes lead to suicide.
France Telecom & Employee Motivation
Motivation is the process of arousing and sustaining goal-directed behavior.
However, we saw earlier that between 2005 and 2010, France Télécom did not give objectives and goals to its employees.
In March 2010, the company announced that it planned to start basing about a third of their manager's bonuses on social criteria, such as job satisfaction of the employees. The change was implemented as part of a plan to deal with the issue of rash of suicides.
The decision to tie bonuses to worker satisfaction and absenteeism was the latest effort to address the suicides problems. As a matter of fact, many of the people at the company who committed or attempted to commit suicide blamed their actions on working conditions, forced transfers, or fear of job loss, which we saw earlier brings a high level of stress in the workplace.
It was a good idea to improve the environment and working conditions at the company. But why did it take a rash of suicides for France Télécom to understand that managers are accountable for the satisfaction of those who report to them ?
Maslow's Theory of needs
In Maslow's Book Motivation and Personality (2006), it is stated that people cannot be motivated to move on to higher level needs when they feel their basic needs are not met in a satisfactory way. For example, poor leadership keeps people at lower levels whereas change, innovation, and improving productivity, require people to be at higher levels. France Telecom learnt this the hard way.
Another theory states that motivation factors such as recognition, responsibility advancement and growth bring job satisfaction. On the other hand, bad working conditions, low status, and incompetent supervision can only bring job dissatisfaction.
Late France Télécom employee blamed the awful working conditions and explained that suicide was the only way out. This is a very extreme situation of job dissatisfaction but it only underlines until where a management of terror can bring its employees.
If France Télécom had wanted to sabotage the organization by disgusting its employees, it would not have succeeded better.
3. Teams / Learning
Most of France Télécom's employees worked in teams. On an individual level, team or group members derive benefits from the collective experience of teamwork. These individual benefits can be organized into 2 categories : Psychological intimacy and Integrated involvement.
Psychological intimacy is emotional and psychological closeness to other team members. It results in feelings of affection and warmth, positive regard, communication, and support. On the other hand, failing to achieve psychological intimacy may result in feeling of isolation and loneliness.
Integrated involvement is closeness achieved through tasks and activities, it results in enjoyment of work, social identity and self-definition, being valued for one's skills and abilities, opportunities for power, and influence. It contributes to social psychological health and well-being.
Whereas psychological intimacy is based more on emotions, integrated involvement is based on behavior and activities.
The success of both of these forms of group intimacies are necessary for the performance of an organization. It improves group cohesion and prevents loafing.
A team showing these characteristics is called a "Mature Group". Team members know their mission and the way they can behave around their colleagues. They are usually more creative and can self manage.
France Télécom's management failed to sufficiently empower its employees so that they were not able to take their own decisions within their teams, they did not know their mission or objectives. In addition to all that, team cohesion was inexistent because of the constant position changes and reassignments.
In these conditions, communication is even harder. Some ethical dilemmas arised, such as :
Were employee's rights respected ? Was the management at France Télécom a form of harassment ? Why did it take a wave of suicides to blow the whistle ?
The necessity of France Télécom to adapt to modern technologies such as the computer and the Internet was also a leading factor of the restructuring plan in the 2000's. Although, on this aspect, it seems that the company offered formations and trainings to its employees. This explains also why the range Group is today a major actor in the telecommunications industry.
4. Diversity (Prize)
After al,l it seems that France Télécom did not do everything wrong. In fact, in July 2010, diversity was successfully integrated within the restructuring plan with very ambitious objectives. For example, one of them was to reach the level of 35% of managers that are women. France Télécom-Orange even earned last year the "Gender Equality-European Standard Certification". It is one of the first companies in Europe to be certified.
This step emphasizes the turning point at France Télécom. The management team learnt its lesson and is now trying to make things right for its employees. When the Group was audited before being granted with the prize, a number of strong points were revealed. The policies, strategies, dialogues and initiatives present in different entities of the Group were highly appreciated.
Brigitte Dumont, Deputy Director of Group Human Resources says : "We are very proud to have obtained this certification which recognizes the coherence of our gender equality in the workplace policy and which reinforces our motivation to pursue our efforts right across our European footprint and in other countries across the world."
Gender equality is not the only goal the France Télécom-Orange Group is trying to pursue. It also aims at improving ability diversity. Although this project only started in 2011, it seems promising.
Conclusion / Other Example
To put it in a nutshell, France télécom had some problems about their way of managing their employees and the pressure put by the managers. But after a lot of period of suicide inside the company, France télécom had to change their organizational behavior because the news pointed them out. but France télécom was not the only company which had suicides inside of the company. there are many examples like Renault of Foxconn which occurred in the same period. For example in Renault there had some suicides related to a spy case in which some employees were suspected and they could not accept the pressure established by the board of Renault.
Nowadays we know less cases about suicides in France because the way of managing the employees changed inside the company and because today the ethics' part of a corporation is very important.
France Télécom Suicides in 2008/2009
Other examples :
Foxconn (Apple and Microsoft manufacturer), "No suicide" pact
Renault (4 people in one week in the same workshop)
http://m.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/suicides-shake-french-telecom-giant/article4297351/?service=mobile (at the end)
gender equality in the workplace: France Telecom-Orange earns Gender Equality-European Standard certification
http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=XD6N8bsjOEE (10'20'') (12') (13') (16')