I was shocked to read about the horrific happenings at France Telecom, the global telecommunications giant. Based upon huge staff reductions and other Draconian measures taken during the recession, no fewer than 23 employees have committed suicide in the past 18 months.
I was even more shocked and, in fact, sickened to read about senior management's apparent lack of communication and abject indifference as the crisis unfolded. One France Telecom employee, Monique Fraysee-Guiglini, said management had been in total denial for a long time. “It has refused to listen to what the office doctors had to say about the restructuring. We tried to sound the alarm several times, in vain. Speech is very restricted,” she said.
What a terrible indictment. And, what a horrible way in which to manage an organization and treat fellow human beings. I've seen lots of corporate cultures over the years, many of which were positively toxic. But, I've never, ever experienced one that seems as totally detached from common sense, business ethics and basic decency as the one at France Telecom.
Having just attended the Arthur Page Society's annual conference, I know how critically important honesty and transparency is to a brand's reputation and performance. During the two-day conference, we had the opportunity to listen to the CEOs of such companies as US Airways, Darden Restaurants, CDW and others. Each consistently stressed the critical importance of placing ethics ahead of expediency. These companies succeed because they do the right thing.
If the allegations against the senior executives of France Telecom are true, then the company will most surely be forever branded as the evil doppelganger of J&J/Tylenol in the annals of crisis communications management.