Case Studies

Case studies exploring fascinating additional case studies from the author demonstrating HRM in practice around the world. From the internal vs. external candidate debate to employer branding abroad, learn how companies of all sizes approach different aspects of HRM.

  • Employee wellbeing and the impact of organizational change at France Telecom

A stark example of the implications of organizational change for employee well-being made the news in 2009. In October of that year, a France Telecom employee became the 24th worker at the company to commit suicide, blaming the ‘atmosphere’ at work. Unions at the company claimed workers are being driven to kill themselves by the pressure caused by a wide-ranging restructuring, following the part-privatization of the company in 1997.

Simons (2009) reports that, according to unions and works committees, since the company went public in 1997 (it was once part of the French post office) it has been turned into a leaner, meaner France Telecom with a tough new management style concerned primarily with profit and productivity. Unions claimed that thousands of workers in the company have subsequently experienced huge upheaval, including arbitrary transfers (for example, technicians being transferred to customer service roles without receiving adequate training), forced relocations and widespread redundancies. These changes have resulted in stress, anxiety and insecurity among employees. Colleagues of the latest worker to commit suicide said he had recently been moved from a back-office role to working in a call centre, and had struggled to cope with handling customer complaints and attempting to sell new services. Another worker who committed suicide in July 2009 blamed ‘overwork’ and ‘management by terror’, writing that ‘I am committing suicide because of my work at France Telecom. That's the only reason’.

In response to the spate of suicides, and the associated negative publicity, the French government (as the majority shareholder in the firm) and management proposed a number of measures to address the problems. These included the recruitment of more occupational health specialists and more accessible support services, including an anonymous advice helpline for distressed employees. There has also been a temporary suspension of further transfers.

In September 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy stressed that France should take into account worker happiness and well-being when assessing its future economic progress and the French government has insisted that France Telecom should become efficient, not only technologically and financially, but also in the way it treats its people.

Whilst this is clearly a stark example of the problems associated with organizational change and its impact on workers, it raises a number of issues pertinent to the management of employee well-being, in its broadest sense, and the means by which organizations seek to manage it.


  1. To what extent does the situation at France Telecom highlight the tension between the operational demands of an organization and a concern for employee well-being?
  2. Do you think the proposed measures to deal with worker stress and anxiety at France Telecom are adequate in addressing the problems highlighted by the recent spate of employee suicides?
  3. What might be alternative approaches to addressing employee concerns?