Suicide Epidemic Sweeps France Telecom

Evening News Nov. 20, 2009 - Sheila MacVicar France Telecom suicide story.

If you work, no one has to tell you that stress is part of just about every job. But at one company it's out of control.

France Telecom is undergoing a major restructuring with the goal of cutting $2.25 billion in expenses. But as the company strives to save money, it's losing employees to an epidemic of suicide, CBS News correspondent Sheila MacVicar reports from Paris.

Ludovic Nouclerq started hallucinating about hanging himself one year ago. He was a manager at France Telecom and was told he had failed to achieve corporate goals, a common experience in the working world.

But Nouclerq claims that in the case of this giant company, undermining employees is a deliberate management strategy that has led to suicide.

"I knew that what I will do won't be successful," said Nouclerq, who says he was being set up to fail.

France Telecom began a massive re-organization three years ago, cutting one fifth of its workforce. Since then employees have been going to a lot of funerals. There have been 26 in the last 18 months.

In France, the suicide rate is 16 suicides per 100,000. At France Telecom, it is 17.6.

Work is usually not the reason for suicide. But in the case of France Telecom, many of those who have committed or attempted suicide have directly blamed the company and its management for creating working conditions that have made their lives intolerable.

The suicides and dozens of attempts are happening all over the French network. Suicide notes tell similar stories, blaming constant pressure to resign, impossible goals, frequent forced relocations and chaotic reorganization.

One woman jumped to her death from her fifth floor office window after she was told her job was changing yet again and that she was being assigned to another new boss.

"I'd rather die," she wrote.

Yonnel Dervin stabbed himself in the stomach at work after his manager told him he no longer had the skills the company needed.

"You're in your own bubble. Too bad. It's a bubble without oxygen. You understand? You just can't live anymore," Dervin said through a translator.

Noelle Burgi has studied the France Telecom problem and says suicide is just the tip of the iceberg.

"People are treated like numbers," Burgi said. "It's a cumulative process."

The company's CEO, Didier Lombard, was booed by employees after yet another suicide. Pressured by the French government to stop the deaths, Didier has had to announce the suspension of job transfers and corporate re-organization at least until the end of the year.

But suicide attempts at the company continue and no one thinks these measures will put an end to this epidemic any time soon.