But what epidemic of suicide at France Telecom? Credit - public domain

Over in France several former executives of Orange, France Telecom as was, are up for trial over causing suicides. This is all about the fairly brutal restructuring required at the company in the 00s. Some of those employees forced to restructure committed suicide – perhaps the executives are to blame?

The problem with this being that there wasn’t an epidemic of suicides. We appear to be dealing with little more than ignorance of statistics here.

The former chief executive of France Telecom and six other managers are to stand trial over a spate of suicides among their staff in the late 2000s.

Prosecutors have long claimed they presided over a culture of harassment at the firm that led at least 19 employees to kill themselves.

19 eh?

The labour report alleged the company used harsh restructuring methods such as forcing people into new jobs and giving unattainable performance objectives.

The restructuring plan allegedly aimed to reduce France Telecom’s headcount by 22,000 while shifting 10,000 people into new jobs and recruiting 6,000 new employees.

OK, a pretty large and possibly brutal restructuring:

The move to trial, which will also involve other senior executives, follows a judicial investigation into a restructuring programme that unions claimed triggered 35 employee suicides in 2008 and 2009.

35 over two years?

Ah, and there’s the problem. The French suicide rate is about 6 for women, 19 for men. That’s the number expected in any group of 100,000 people. France Telecom/Orange at the time had some 100,000 employees. We’d thus be expecting some to happen. Quite how many will depend upon the gender mix of that workforce. But what? 15 a year? 30 over two years? 19 and 35 are well within the usual and expected levels of statistical variability, aren’t they?

So, what we seem to have here is people being prosecuted for their responsibility in something that we’d have expected to happen anyway. For that suicide epidemic appears to be little more than the expected incidence of suicide, doesn’t it?

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4 COMMENTS

  1. So a French company decisively reoriented its work force toward the work that needed to be done. The concept that this could result in personal dilemmas to which suicide would be the best resolution — that the worker is entitled to Have A Nice Day every day, or else can only kill himself to Send A Message — is societal dysfunction. Fortunately, it probably isn’t a complete country playing pretend; just lawyers doing so in contemplation of a cash settlement.

  2. French prosecutions of this type are almost entirely politically driven. US readers may want to imagine the thrusting, dynamic young DA, keen to make a name for himself (or, indeed, herself). This could all have been avoided by some donations to the right political parties.

  3. Mmmm… Just at a guess, the suicide rate amongst Orange customers – rather than employees – is likely to be higher than the national average. That & the impulse to murder. No research to go on, of course. Apart from having been a customer of Orange.