Never let it be said that France Telecom is unfair. Inefficient, greedy, expensive, yes, but unfair...no.
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, rather...is 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.