Feature

France: Holding CEOs responsible for suicides

The management style of the former CEO of France Télécom was so brutal that one man actually stabbed himself during a staff meeting.

Stéphane LauerLe Monde

Harsh bosses, beware, said Stéphane Lauer. France is finally beginning to hold top managers to account for creating demoralizing work environments that lead employees to kill themselves. Last week, Didier Lombard, former CEO of France Télécom, was placed under criminal investigation for allegedly creating the toxic conditions that drove more than 30 of his employees to commit suicide, and dozens more to attempt it, in just two years. Employees were given impossible performance goals and berated harshly when they could not meet them. The management style during Lombard’s tenure was so brutal that one man actually stabbed himself during a staff meeting, and a woman threw herself out of her office window. Numerous civil suits have already been successfully brought, but this is the first time that managers could face criminal charges. The “wall of silence” has finally been breached, and French business practices will surely change. Business strategy has to amount to more than just “a cold and rational allocation of tasks.” Employees are not robots. The indictment of Lombard will spur our society to “ask crucial questions about the structure of work.” France Télécom isn’t the only company with a suicide epidemic: Renault, Peugeot Citroën, and even the state-run postal service have also suffered. Who will be the next CEO to be called to account? 

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