All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Suicide on line

Never let it be said that France Telecom is unfair. Inefficient, greedy, expensive, yes, but

It has been the objet of press speculation recently as there have been several cases of suicide by employees of the institution, suffering from stress at work, apparently from the pressure to meet targets as the giant of telecommunications has faced the task of losing its' comfortable monopoly and keeping pace with its' competitors. It has a problem...telecommunications have changed radically in France, people moving from fixed line to mobile deals, but France Telecom, needing to cut costs, cannot shed employees. From its' days as a state institution, it has inherited staff with the right to a job for life, and all it can do is to try to retrain these people for the new business world in which they find themselves, or bribe them to leave, with offers of financial support to set up their own businesses. Should these businesses fold however, France Telecom will take back the people involved and find them a job again! As I have had cause to remark before, the French love to have their cake and eat it too.

Apparently, even the staff union admits that the rate of suicide is 'normal' for France Telecom and is inferior to the national norm, but the phenomenon has been brought to public attention as part of an attack on management practices at FT. Now, if I had been a lineman for years, stuck out on a pole in the middle of the countryside, I think I might find it difficult to adjust to working in a call centre with targets to meet, and, in general, even commercial staff, used to a captive clientele whom they could abuse at will, must find it difficult to find themselves obliged to coax rather than command, but why would one resort to suicide if one was sure of a job for life?

The answer seems to be in part that FT did not anticipate that there might be a problem in changing the mode of work of their employees, and, in fact, announced earlier this year that the old culture would have to change without doing anything to facilitate that change. Only now that the matter has reached public attention has management installed processes of dialogue to defuse delicate situations. The root of it lies in the underlying culture of France, where the state embodies the will of the people. When FT was part of the state apparatus, its' employees could feel superior to their clients...they were part of the governing caste, even if very low down in the food chain. Suddenly, they find themselves in the position of having to conciliate their clients, attract them to what FT has to offer, instead of depriving them of access if not of good behaviour as in the good old days.

France Telecom has only itself to blame for the flight of clients to its competitors...a history of high prices and poor service is difficult to overcome, and changing its name to Orange was clearly not the answer.

The task of the outdoorsmen in the call centres will not be made easier by the latest headline.

A gentleman living near Valenciennes, near the Belgian border, subscribed for an internet and telephone offer at a fixed fee of 95 Euros per month. Figure his surprise to receive his first monthly bill for 45,000 Euros, give or take a sou or two.

He refused to pay, FT...or Orange, already sending reminders, and he discovers that

a) the offer he subscribed to is not the offer he was given


b) he is being charged for international calls at a rate worthy of a business class hotel.

The former point is sort of admitted by FT, while the latter remains mired in mystery, although it has been suggested that, as he lives so close to the border, he has been routed via the Belgian network, which would reconcile the volume of international calls with his claim that he has made none whatsoever.

So, as I say, never claim that France Telecom is not fair....evenhandedly, it drives both its employees and its customers to thoughts of suicide.


  1. Oh yes, we have the wonderful "Orange" here, and they are just as nice and reasonable...A few months ago, we got cut off for USING THE PHONE, and had to make a deposit in order to be reconnected, which I never expect to see again...Hate Orange.

  2. that's think your job would want to make you take your own life.....

    Gill in Canada, via Lindsay's

  3. Ah the challenges of the telecoms...Greece is also bizarre at times.

    Odd irony with our cellphones: unless we lock them into our provider, we find ourselves while moving through the house, traveling vast distances beyond just changing rooms, to change from Greece to Albania to Greece again!

    If we happen to answer the phone while we are say in the hallway and Albania is suddenly our service provider, we end up paying long distance rates! (The living room and the kitchen are normally in Greece.)

    I always have to ask guests if their phones are set and locked on the Greece provider because if they've activated the roaming network, they're going to get long distance charges...

  4. Don't even get me started on FT service...!

    That said, the suicide thing is really creepy. I read about it again today and it is quite unusual, despite what the unions say.

    I really wonder how bad can the job be.

  5. Pueblo girl, I was cold called by Orange, explained my point of view and heard a depressed sigh at the other end. It can't be much fun trying to sell what they are pleased to call their services.

    Gill, thanks for taking a look. French office life is, at the best of times, pretty grim from what I hear from people undergoing it, but this suicide thing is disquieting.

  6. truestarr, are you sure that Orange wasn't thinking of your situation when it pulled that scam on the customer from Valenciennes?

    Zhu, no, thinking about FT brings on high blood pressure.

  7. I rather missed the point though, didn't I? Orange's customer "service" has hardly driven me to suicide. On the other hand, if this is how they treat people they're supposed to please, I dread to think how they would treat people at their mercy. Horrid company.

  8. It seems to me that this big French organisation (and perhaps other similar ones) is only taking the problems of their struggling employees seriously now that the story has hit the big time internationally.

  9. Pueblo girl, I know one lady whose sufferings at the hands of Orange drove her to despair. Trying to set up a business....never the easiest of things in France....her 'phone and internet have continually been down while she has been harassed by Orange for bills for services they are not supplying. I've seen the correspondence, so it's not 'rural myth'.

    French Fancy, I suppose FT is like all big companies...lots of jargon about their care of their employees while the reality is totally different. Amazing how many friends' kids have made similar comments about working for Marks and Spencer while financing their education, by the way.

  10. Fly, thanks for such an interesting glimpse into the world of FT. The mind boggles at the stupidity of large companies still living in the darkened realms of 1947.

    I'll be on my best behaviour and not warn any French travellers of the dangers that lay ahead for them when visiting Dublin or Glasgow in the future, thanks to the latest cheating shame of their countries favourite sporting hero.

  11. Jimmy Bastard,
    No, I won't warn them either....that'll learn 'em to sing the blasted Marseillaise to celebrate their dishonest wins....
    When you think that Zidane was a hero for nutting the Italian player.....
    Just a thought, but you might have some the next department they stage Highland Games - 12/13 June 2010 - with participants from Scotland, the U.S., Canada and...bogglingly, Belgium....
    Would there be some way to tamper with a caber or a hammer to ensure that French competitors receive a little of their own medicine?
    My best sporting moment was watching France v Argentina for third place in the rugby world cup when it was held in France. France brought on their Neanderthal fouler in the second half - he can't last a whole match - so Argentina brought on a brick shithouse who just trotted up, felled the Neanderthal, who I think was carted off and then went off with his red card, job completed.
    Argentina obviously understood how to play the French.

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  13. The continual headlines about FT suicides left me shocked beyond belief, I find it really difficult to believe that is normal - and if it is then there is a huge problem in corporate France. Hate Orange too, both hub and I have had awful experiences with the company and avoid dealing with it wherever we can.

  14. Frances, I find it dreadful that a working environment can be so bad for so long and nothing is done at all until it hits the press. I have suspicion from what French friends tell me about their childrens' working life that there is indeed something very wrong with corporate France.
    Bring on the Argenine 'rugbyman'...he might sort it out.

  15. We have Orange and have been having Internet problems. And I've already screamed at some arrogant "technician" that wanted to come over to check the line - for 150 euros. What? It's their service that's faulty but we're being blamed. I'm sure it's the same in the UK....

  16. Dumdad, I don't know about the U.K. - just that, after long experience of FT, I'd have thought that it would have been more appropriate to have called it Lemon when they were choosing a new name.

  17. I believe a little medicine will be on hand to the visitors fae France at that particular venue.

    It might be advisable to look the other way on more than the one occasion, as I hear that they may well be handling their own balls due to more than one low flying caber.

  18. Jimmy Bastard, cabers below the radar...wonderful.