ESMT Case Study

Suicides at France Télécom

ESMT Case Study No. ESMT-414-0149-1
2012 EFMD Case Writing Award Highly Commended Case
Subject(s): Human resources management/organizational behavior
Keyword(s): Responsible leadership, change management, corporate responsibility, business ethics, adaptive leadership, corporate communications, corporate culture

The case deals with a dramatic series of suicides at France Télécom between 2008 and 2009. Over a period of 18 months preceding the date of the opening lines of the case, 23 France Télécom employees took their lives. Many of the deceased had left notes blaming work-related stress or management decisions as the reasons for their extreme actions. The French government found it necessary to intervene and demand France Télécom’s management to indicate to the workforce and society that they were taking the situation seriously. The case briefly describes the history of France Télécom, the change initiatives following the deregulation of the European telecommunications industry, and the development of the attention of the French nation and international public toward the company in the aftermath of the suicides and suicide attempts. The case closes citing the response of the government, the company, the unions, psychologists, and stock analysts after a crisis meeting between French Labor Minister Xavier Darcos and France Télécom’s PDG (Chairman of the Board and CEO) Didier Lombard in September 2009.

The case serves as a fertile basis for discussion on responsible leadership, corporate culture, human resources management practices, adaptive change management, corporate social responsibility, or business ethics. It puts the students in a deep thinking mode on questions about the responsibility of organizational leaders for creating healthy working cultures, the impact leadership decisions have on people’s lives, and their own choices as managers or employees in difficult organizational situations. The case can also be used as introductory stimulus material for in-company management training programs on workplace health or suicide prevention.

Teaching note Yes
Also available in Spanish
Length 14p
Industry Telecommunications
Geographical setting France
Size €45 billion revenue; 170,000 employees
Setting period 2009
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