Risks of Burnout: A case of company suicides

Risks of Burnout: A case of company suicides

In today’s world, it’s important to take control of our own lives. This means leading ourselves into making decisions that work for us. Gone are the days when employment offered a sense of security that allowed us to focus on other things. Today, uncertainty is the main stressor in our lives, leading to feelings of powerlessness and lack of choice.

A case

Orange is a mobile telecoms company bought and merged with France Telecom, France’s national telecommunications company. It underwent four mergers & acquisitions between 1997 and 2007, resulting in a progressively more chaotic and difficult work environment.

Between 2008-2009, there was a wave of suicides of 35 company employees, some who left letters stating that the “management by terror” was intolerable and they felt without choice. The CEO of the time, Didier Lombard, claimed a “copy cat behavior” and felt he was not responsible for the suicides. He also said that he will “downsize one way or another” in a country with labor laws making it difficult to treat people as replaceable cogs in a wheel. He is still under investigation, more for his comments than the organizational culture he intentionally or unintentionally created.

Today, in 2014, under a new CEO, Stephane Richard, again there have been 10 suicides this year. Are we waiting for something specific to happen before we take action?

Two questions:

1. How might you deal with this if you were an organizational leader at Orange?

2. How might you deal with intolerable frustration at work without concluding that suicide is the only way out?


Consider frames.

Shifting frames (aka paradigms) is the easiest way to immediately access new, creative ideas that seemed unimaginable before the paradigm shift.

When someone commits suicide, perhaps they had a frame of no options, no choices. That might have been how they saw things, but in fact, this is never true. We are always at choice and we always have options, although we may not be able to see them at the time. In today’s legacy industrial paradigm, though, it’s easy to use the “no choice” frame because we’ve been socialized to think that we’re powerless unless we can constantly prove our worth through visible achievements. We’ve collectively thought that people are motivated extrinsically and for this reason, we use the carrots and sticks approach to leadership and life.

The truth is that we’re motivated by invisible forces that nurture our natural growth and development. Our basic human needs, first noticed by Aristotle and modernized more recently by Maslow (hierarchy of needs) and Tony Robbins’ six basic needs: love/connection, certainty, variety, significance, growth and contribution. These needs motivate every thought, feeling and action we take.

When feeling tired from fast-paced lives, low morale, frustration at work and moving toward burnout, we can shift our frames to feel positive in the moment.

Three strategies:

Shift from powerless to powerful; ask the question: what do I have power to change in this moment?

Shift from no options to options; which choices might I have to change my situation? think out of the box and ask friends to help

Shift from ‘what I don’t have’ to ‘what I have’; how might you expand your options by expanding what’s already good in your life?