Since booking a heavenly mini-break to Paris last Wednesday, my mind has been on everything French. The last thing I expected, of course, was that my love of Paris and my antipathy towards workplace bullying would meet head on. But the following day, The Guardian again highlighted the much publicised spate of worker suicides in France.
At the heart of the story is the formal investigation into Didier Lombard, former chief executive of France Telecom, where 35 staff took their own lives in 2008 and 2009. And it’s not confined to France Telecom. Peugeot, EDF and Renault share their own clusters of stress induced staff suicide.
Bill Stewart, Business Professor at the American University of Paris, said on France 24 News that due to the economic crisis some companies have realised there’s another option other than paying staff the redundancy they deserve. Some firms instead are choosing to submit their workforce to intense psychological pressure; bullying and belittling them, moving them around and/or forcing constant change on employees. Staff are deliberately harassed in the hope they’ll quit. Mr Stewart quoted some black office humour with regard to the way some French firms are treating their workers:
“These days they don’t show you the door. They show you a window”.
Back in Britain, Unite also recently linked a steep rise in suicides with the imposition of austerity cuts and warned that the government’s austerity measures put workers at increased risk. For example, they note a 40% increase in suicide rates in Greece and raise concerns that the same upward trend might be noted here.
If it’s down to the austerity, then maybe there’s a ray of hope for French workers in Socialist President François Hollande. I’m reminded of his election assertion on May 6th, “Austerity can no longer be inevitable!”
We’ll soon see if François Hollande’s claim that austerity is not inevitable has any correlation with worker suicides not being inevitable. I’ve faith that Monsieur Hollande will show the world a different view from a very different window.