Instead of Stress, Worker Freedom: We Are Micromanaging Our Employees to Death

by Isaac Getz

SEPTEMBER 21, 2009
If President Nicolas Sarkozy wants Frenchmen to be happy, he might worry less about how many vacation days they get, and more about the crushing bureaucracies in which they work. The French media is busy discussing the series of suicides at France Télécom. Since its trade unions started to track the data in 2008, 23 of the company’s employees have committed suicide and 13 have attempted it. The company’s executives are no doubt chafing under the garish limelight, and critics of the coverage may have some points. As with airplane crashes, suicides are attention-grabbing but may be statistically unrepresentative. France Télécom has more than 100,000 employees, so perhaps if data were available on other companies, the suicide rate at France Télécom would not look exceptional. In their list, the unions themselves attribute some of the suicides to strictly personal causes. Like airplane crashes again, suicides can have a variety of combined causes. But as the French say, there is no smoke without fire. A recent study reported that 52% of working French don’t sleep well on Sunday night. But work-related stress is not a French disease, and is ubiquitous and severe in all developed economies. In the U.K. and U.S. 70% of employees don’t sleep well on Sunday night either.

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