Boss’s bully culture is blamed for suicide crisis
Didier Lombard, President of France Telecom. Photo: AFP
PARIS: The former chief executive of France Telecom is being investigated for workplace bullying after a spate of suicides at the phone company and its subsidiary Orange, in what could become a landmark criminal trial.
Didier Lombard stepped down as head of the company in 2010 amid criticism of his handling of the suicide crisis; about 35 staff killed themselves in 2008 and 2009. Unions said a bullying culture had permeated the company.
Details emerged of the anguish of staff who killed themselves, including one who set himself alight in front of his office in western France. Some workers left notes blaming work pressure, bullying and ”management by terror” while scores of other staff were saved after trying to kill themselves. One worker was found unconscious after taking an overdose at her desk.
Unions complained of a culture of fear and depression, where managers did not take mental health seriously. Some union officials said the company had intentionally created a stressful environment to push employees into quitting.
During the crisis over the deaths, Mr Lombard caused outrage by referring to it as a ”suicide trend”.
He is now accused of advocating tough management practices amounting to psychological harassment.
The legal case is a first in France because Mr Lombard is not being singled out for targeting individuals, but for presiding over a collective bullying approach that spread across the company.
It is the first time a French chief executive has been placed under judicial investigation in a workplace bullying case.
”I forcefully reject the idea that [restructuring] plans vital to the survival of the company might have been the cause of human tragedies,” Mr Lombard wrote in Le Monde newspaper.
Guardian News Media
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