Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

Posts Tagged ‘Stress

‘Radical change’ called for in France Telecom

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An interim report commissioned by France Telecom is reported to have said that the company has only ‘a few weeks’ to put new HR practices in place following the recent spate of suicides in the company. The report advises the new management team at the company, which took place at the start of March, of the need to ‘take charge and encourage radical change’ at the company if it is to recover its former status.

The report, which does not yet appear to have been leaked in full but which has been confirmed as authentic, has been seen by French and international newspapers. It has been commissioned from an organisation called Technologia whose motto is ‘Health and safety at the heart of decision-making’. In reaching an agreement with most of its trade unions last November, now ratified, France Telecom has already sought to put an end to some of the practices which had been believed to have led to the rise in the number of suicides, which now number 43 since January 2008 and including at least eight since the start of 2010. Nevertheless, the Technologia report, based on a series of 500 interviews with France Telecom employees, makes a series of 107 recommendations to address the crisis, calling in particular on the company to:

Implement a moratorium on reorganizations, closely monitor psychosocial risk factors and create an internal network of mediators to make the personnel department more accessible

– and all on the basis that ‘actions [need to] accompany all the talk‘. The report also calls on the company to institute a network of mediators, 30% external and 70% from inside France Telecom, whose role would be to listen to employees in difficulty and to play a ‘real role of arbitration’, and to undertake mobility moves only where the usefulness of such a move had been tested to the limits and where the employee concerned was provided with a supporting mentor.

The Technologia report is now being discussed with the unions representing France Telecom employees.

Further, it also emerged at the weekend that the Labour Inspectorate has lodged with the Paris prosecutor’s office an 82-page report condemning practices at the company as bullying behaviour likely to endanger the lives of others in the workplace, and which it believed to have stemmed from decisions taken at the highest level of the group.

Both the Technologia report and the Labour Inspectorate one are clearly critical of the approach of the company’s senior management and provide the trade unions with significant additional power in their continuing battle with France Telecom over its reorganisation. Technologia’s page on psycho-social hazards speaks of its role in terms of ‘the resumption of dialogue and building a relationship of trust between the social partners’; that’s likely to be a mighty hard row to hoe in France Telecom, but an approach rooted in the dignity of labour, and which actively promotes the needs of employees, not least in a mental health setting, in corporate restructuring situations has a lot to commend itself.


Written by Calvin

15/03/2010 at 12:08 pm

A 21-hour week?

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The new economics foundation’s latest report, published on Saturday, seeks to argue the case for why shorter working time could help us all to flourish in the 21st century.

nef believes that shorter working time is ‘set to become the norm’ as the country grapples with the economic, social and environmental problems confronting it, not least against the backdrop of the work-earn-consume vicious circle, while a goal of a 21-hour week would, in the words of Anna Coote, co-author of the report and nef’s Head of Social Policy let us see that:

Spending less time in paid work could help us to break this pattern. We’d have more time to be better parents, better citizens, better carers and better neighbours. And we could even become better employees: less stressed, more in control, happier in our jobs and more productive. It is time to break the power of the old industrial clock, take back our lives and work for a sustainable future.

Lower working time would, via a reduction in stress patterns, certainly help to make us better people. It might also help unemployment – though probably not in the short-term – and an ending of consumerism might well conserve environmental resources. The latter might be a step too far for some in the face of the need for economies to expand, but a just transition to a green economy, preserving jobs and skills with a view to the benefits of a growing economy, differently constituted, remains the right emphasis here.

A working week of 21 hours for all might or might not be an achievable goal – but at least it’s a good hook for a general discussion on the social impact of working time. The level of unpaid overtime in the UK remains too high and, while average working hours have come down in the last ten years (ASHE reports a reduction of one hour in the mean hours of full-time employees between 1997 and 2009), the working week in the UK remains above the EU average, both for the expanded EU and for member states prior to the accession of countries in eastern and central Europe where working hours are higher.

The following chart shows the long-term decline in working time in the UK, as reported by the OECD. The measure used – average annual hours actually worked per worker – is not ideal (not least since it does not strip out the effects of a rise in temporary and part-time working, and since the reduction between 2001 and 2003 is not readily explicable), but it does show that working time in the UK has fallen by about 15% over the period.

Ahead of next week’s Work Your Proper Hours Day, nef’s report is a worthwhile contribution to the debate at the macro level. The policy solutions associated with such ‘blue sky’ thinking are frequently problematic, and this is no exception. Nevertheless, the major difficulty always lies in making this sort of debate meaningful at the micro level, where the notion of such drastic cuts in working time means little to many full-time employees focused as they are on keeping their jobs, not to say their pensions. On a day-to-day basis, the basic goal remains one of getting people to think about their own work-life balance and, in this context, such reports continue to offer useful service. A reduction of a similar order to that reported by the OECD, and over a quicker period, would be welcome and if the report contributes to that objective, well and good.

Written by Calvin

15/02/2010 at 2:45 pm

TUC Recession Report No. 14

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The TUC has published its most recent Recession Report, which can be accessed via Nicola Smith’s blog posting on ToUChstone here.

The headline facts are that 2.491m people are unemployed, at an unemployment rate of 7.9%. Unemployment has increased by 30,000 on the month and 608,000 on the year, while the rate is unchanged on the quarter but up by 1.9 percentage points on the year. The employment rate is currently 72.5%, with no change on last month or on the quarter, but down by 1.7 percentage points on the year.

So, the figures on unemployment continue to show a slowing trend but that recovery remains a good way off, with unemployment unlikely to fall for some time after the economy emerges from recession. Part-time working shows a sharp increase, partly as a result of involuntary part-time working; the number of discouraged workers  (those becoming economically inactive because they cannot find work, but who don’t as a result show up in the unemployment figures) is on the increase; and long-term unemployment is on the rise.

This month’s special focus of the report is the links between unemployment and physical and mental health, with a lengthy review of the literature on the issue (to which a commentator on the blog has usefully added further references). Evidently, unemployment adds insecurity and stress to everyone, including those out of work faced with increased money, security and relationship worries, while those in employment are faced with higher workloads and the fear of the dole. Individuals’ mental health can be fragile enough and the pressures caused by recession are often sufficient to deepen, as well as to widen, the worries which affect mental health. Reason enough, as the report argues, to require proper policy attention to unemployment and for a clear strategy to deal proactively with it.

Written by Calvin

08/01/2010 at 8:30 pm

Posted in Economic trends

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France Telecom agreement on staff mobility?

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La Tribune, France’s business newspaper, has reported that France Telecom has signed an agreement on Thursday last week with four trade unions on its package of measures to deal with the work mobility pressures that have led to a spate of suicides amongst managerial grades in the company.

Trade union websites (e.g. CFTD, CGT and CFE-CGC) are as yet silent on the agreement and at least one – Federation Sud – has apparently refused to sign the agreement [registration required; limited viewing time] on the grounds that it doesn’t go far enough to restore employee confidence.

The report in La Tribune states that the agreement will establish a system of part-time working, without loss, for those three years from retirement including pay at up to 80% of the previous level. Some 14,000 people are eligible for the measure and, on the basis of an assumed take-up by 11,000 workers, will cost c. €700m (not the €1bn earlier reported). Measures also envisaged under the agreement include the setting up of career orientation interviews for employees aged 45 and over and guaranteeing access to training for employees in the same age group. On this morning’s Radio Classique, Stephane Richard, no. 2 at the company, is reported to have confirmed that next year, albeit without definitely ending the practice of mobility, it would not have the mobility scheme that has previously existed; that there would be no forced moves for anyone within three years of retirement; and that mobility would in the future be voluntary. In short: ‘C’est bien un nouveau France Télécom que nous voulons’ (‘It’s a new FT that we’re looking for’).

Looks like the close of a chapter which the French unions and workers in solidarity have done well to pursue. If indeed an agreement has been signed, it’s to be hoped that this ends the tragic spate of suicides in France Telecom which have occurred over the past twenty months.

Written by Calvin

30/11/2009 at 2:23 pm

NICE report on mental health at work

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The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, an independent organisation providing national guidance on the promotion of good health and the prevention and treatment of ill health, has today produced a new public health guidance note for the Department of Health on Promoting mental wellbeing through productive and healthy working conditions.

Starting from the presumption that work has an important role in employees’ mental wellbeing, but that it can also have negative effects on health, particularly in the form of stress, the guidance includes a very useful paragraph summarising the issues in and around the workplace that pose risks to mental health at work:

Working environments that pose risks for mental wellbeing put high demands on a person without giving them sufficient control and support to manage those demands. A perceived imbalance between the effort required and the rewards of the job can lead to stress. A sense of injustice and unfairness arising from management processes or personal relationships can also increase stress and risks to mental health.

The guidance note is aimed at all those who have ‘a direct or indirect role in, and responsibility for, promoting mental wellbeing at work’ and includes a series of four recommendations, as well as an appeal to primary care trusts, primary care services and occupational health services to provide support for employees and employers in micro, small and medium-sized businesses. The major recommendations intended to assist employers, employees and trade unions to protect the mental health of employees at work are:

– take a strategic and co-ordinated approach to promoting employees’ mental wellbeing

– assess opportunities for promoting employees’ mental wellbeing and managing risks

– provide employees with opportunities for flexible working

– strengthen the role of line managers in promoting the mental wellbeing of employees through supportive leadership style and management practices.

There is little that is new about any of these – good organisations should already have an eye on employees wellbeing and many, in conjunction with their trade unions, do actively promote employees’ mental health. The advice is complementary to the advice and standards on stress that already exists, including from the Health and Safety Executive, and it is a useful addition to the armoury of tools that exists in this area, not least in providing detailed references to other related guidance.

Nevertheless, the timing of the publication is key: in a continuing recession, with rising unemployment and concerns over job security, and when employees are under even greater pressure to cover for redundant colleagues, the guidance is a timely reminder of the costs of poor mental health which can be associated with organisational responses to recession and of the duty of all to safeguard against the worst effect of economic crisis in the workplace.

Written by Calvin

05/11/2009 at 2:21 pm

France Telecom establishes €1bn staff help fund

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This morning’s Financial Times is reporting that France Telecom, under intense pressure from workers following a series of work-related suicides amongst its managerial and professional staff, is in the process of establishing a €1bn fund to provide some support to workers towards the end of their careers.

Negotiations on the programme with the company’s trade unions are apparently not yet concluded (and the union websites are as yet silent), but the purpose of the fund seems to be to allow workers aged 57  – the group most affected by the company’s restructuring and the currently-suspended system of compulsory job moves every three years – to move to part-time working while maintaining pay. It needs to be stated that not all those who have committed suicide in the past period (or who have sought to do so) are, however, in this age group.

The size of the fund is not fixed at €1bn but, according to the report, the company has acknowledged that a sum of that magnitude is its ‘working hypothesis’ and would depend on the final precise terms of the scheme and the eventual take-up.

The news was broken as the item appeared in a briefing on the company’s third quarter results – the analyst materials for which do refer to as yet incomplete negotiations on a new social contract, part of which encompasses talks on psychological risks and the programme of part-time work for seniors (see slide 17 of slide pack).

A full conclusion needs to wait for the outcome of the negotiations with the unions but, for now, it does demonstrate what workers acting together can achieve in the context of social dialogue.

Hat-tip: Martin Silman, Executive Director Industry Analyst Relations at AT&T.

Written by Calvin

30/10/2009 at 4:00 pm

France Telecom unions call days of action on suicides

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The six unions in France Telecom have called for two days of action this week to protest at the rate of suicides taking place in the company, which now total 24 in the last 18 months, many – including the latest – having blamed the climate inside the company. The latest days of action are to take place on 6 and 7 October, the latter coinciding with the World Day for Decent Work, and follow other industrial action which has taken place demanding ‘profound and permanent’ change  in France Telecom’s continued restructuring programme.

The restructuring of the company has hit the company’s managers particularly hard since, under the company’s ‘time to move’ programme, the suspension of which had already been extended from the end of October until the end of the year (see related post below), managers are relocated every three years – and many more frequently – in efficiency measures to respond to changing patterns of demand. Many are moved to call centres with little training and into jobs for which they are ill-suited.

Pressure brought by the workers on the company has yielded results and, in addition to other changes, the company has appointed a supervisor to monitor the internal re-shuffling of jobs [registration required; limited viewing time]. Furthermore, at a meeting with unions yesterday, Didier Lombard, the company’s current chief executive, is reported to have confirmed that ‘mobility is not a dogma’ and, therefore, the end of the systematic moving of managers every three years. In the future, rotational moves would not be compulsory while Lombard committed himself also to a more humane working environment [registration required; limited viewing time] to end stress at work.

The most recent suicide has prompted the resignation of France Telecom’s deputy chief executive, a move which a representative of one of the France Telecom unions stated had created the conditions for a change of strategy and as a first step in rebuilding a minimum of trust [registration required; limited viewing time] between company and employees. French politicians have previously backed Didier Lombard in this ‘difficult and painful’ period [registration required; limited viewing time], despite calls from unions for his dismissal. As some have noted, Lombard has been in post for five years already…

At stake remains how, in a world hit by recession, we deal with change and how we organise society in the light of that: a continuation of the old ways or a profound re-thinking of them in accordance with the new times in which we live.

[Edited on 7 October with new details]

Written by Calvin

05/10/2009 at 1:23 pm