Didier Lombard always seemed to be a good egg. It was reassuring to see a techie – he started off in the R&D department – rise to the top of a major company like France Telecom. Too often it’s a smooth bureaucrat, or smoother marketing man, who gets that kind of job.
So it’s disappointing to see France Telecom in disarray over claims of a bullies’ culture which has, allegedly, led to 35 suicides and another 20 attempted suicides. These are now under investigation by the public prosecutor of Paris.
The catalyst for the bullies’ culture came from a policy initiated under Lombard called ‘Time To Move’ which imposed involuntary transfers on staff.
Last August, a network maintenance engineer jumped from a motorway viaduct after being forcibly transferred to a call centre near Annecy where working conditions were described by the unions as ‘unbearable’. He left a note blaming work conditions.
As a result of that case, a local government investigation of France Telecom is underway for ‘suspicion of manslaughter through lack of care, inattention, negligence and failing to respect a duty of prudence’.
Last month, a discredited Lombard was replaced as CEO of France Telecom. That followed a report from the French Health and Safety executive which said France Telecom used psychological pressure to try and shed 22,000 people between 2006 and 2008.
The Health and Safety people described the pressure as ‘brutal’. France Telecom’s own doctors had warned management that the programme was putting too much stress on employees.
The case of France Telecom is seen as an indicator of whether French industry can proceed with its apparent intentions of introducing kick-ass American-style macho management.
That’s all very alien to the French way of life, but is globalisation making it inevitable?