A quick look at privatization news from France:
PARIS, Oct 7 (Reuters) – France Telecom (FTE.PA) on Wednesday began a second day of negotiations with unions on ways to reduce workplace stress blamed by labour leaders for a spate of suicides at Europe’s third biggest telecoms company.
The talks, which are expected to continue for several weeks, are part of France Telecom’s effort to calm the political firestorm surrounding the deaths of 24 workers in the past 18 months.
As sporadic strikes continued at sites across France, Labour unions said management was more conciliatory on the first day of talks, although points of contention remained, such as performance reviews and controls on call centre workers.
…The government, which is France Telecom’s biggest shareholder with 27 percent of shares, has also been closely involved in trying to manage the fallout from the suicides.
To better understand workers’ concerns, “all employees will receive a questionnaire on stress in the workplace” on October 19, said Lombard.
Christian Mathorel, a CGT union representative, was not convinced that management would deliver on its pledges. CGT wants the company to stop monitoring employees’ calls, measuring individual performance and giving managers headcount reduction targets.
“We think the employees are still in danger,” he said. “If we don’t address the fundamental causes behind these dramatic incidents, we will be negotiating in fear of new suicides.”
As one with experience in both managing European employees and working in various roles in call centers, this is an interesting development. 24 suicides in a year and a half at one company’s call center is alarming. Yet, monitoring calls, measuring performance, and reducing headcount are accepted practices in call centers from Memphis to Mumbai; what caused such a reaction at France Telecom?
My guess: a change program executed with insufficient employee engagement and up-front data gathering, analysis, and diagnosis. That’s only a guess, and I’m certain no one could have predicted suicides–it would take a real tyrant to go ahead with that knowledge–but this situation smacks of front-end ignorance of points of resistance. Did this have to happen? Probably not.
By the way, good luck with that questionnaire.