Telecom Timeout

Oct 8 2009   7:49PM GMT

Note from the ledge: Stop the change or I’ll…

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

Change has been the constant of the U.S. telecommunications industry for the past 20 years, which has made it a highly interesting yet volatile industry to belong to. Spinoffs, acquisitions, mergers, financial ruin, executives in handcuffs, reinvention, network changes, layoffs, “right sizing” and so on. So if you can’t handle change, the telecom industry isn’t for you.

Personally, when I’ve been one change over the line, I’ve threatened to throw myself out my first-story office window (the one with the sill 6 inches from the ground). People just laugh and tell me to go back to work, so I don’t even get to the taping a note to the glass.

Not so at France Telecom, where it seems the words suicide and telecom are inextricably linked. Workers and the public are in an uproar that working conditions – meaning reorganization and change – are driving stressed workers over the edge, literally. Harvard Business Publishing looked at this issue in Why are France Telecom workers committing suicide?

Maybe this is a case of extreme cultural differences. Years ago when the Bell companies started downsizing, employees who planned on being with the same company for their entire careers might have felt the same way. And at France Telecom, the public outcry is loud enough that the head of the company’s modernization program has resigned. Yet the deal for workers at France Telecom doesn’t sound nearly as dire as it does at other companies. Does it make sense that being faced with retraining to work in wireless rather than wireline could make someone suicidal? Is the mandatory 35 hours a week just too much? Maybe I’ve become so used to change that I no longer stop to smell the fiber optic cable.

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