Companies need to find a way to tackle the stress put on employees caused by nonstop emails in the BlackBerry age, according to a top executive at France Telecom, which is dealing with a spate of employee suicides.
France Telecom, which operates under the Orange brand, has come under public scrutiny after 22 workers committed suicide and another 13 attempted to kill themselves since the start of 2008.
Chief Financial Officer Gervais Pellissier said some employees were clearly feeling a lot of pressure due to the privatization of France Telecom, but added that that was compounded by new technologies that cause work to encroach increasingly on personal lives.
When you were an average employee in a big corporation 15 years ago, you had no mobile phone or no PC at home. When you were back home, work was out, he said in an interview with Reuters during a visit to New York.
Now many workers around the world have computers at home and carry BlackBerry email devices so they can send work related email after hours, he said.
Research in Motion's popular BlackBerry has been dubbed CrackBerry in the United States where some users say they are addicted to checking e-mails.
Pellissier said this may be taking a bigger toll on workers than has been acknowledged by his company or others.
Today for people working in business, whatever the level, whether they are CEO or even first or second rank level employees, they are always connected, he said.
As a result a fragile employee with difficulties would probably have more confusion with more mixture between personal life and professional life than in the past.
That is probably something we've not undertaken, not only at France Telecom but, it's more a global society issue, the impact of the new ways of working on personal behavior, Pellissier said.
He did not explain how the balance could be addressed but noted that his company was taking the suicides very seriously.
France Telecom Chief Executive Didier Lombard said earlier this month that it was adding surveillance and counseling services as the pace of suicides among employees had picked up. One man had stabbed himself in the stomach during a staff meeting while woman threw herself out a window.
Pellissier talked about stress caused by workers changing jobs, skills and locations as France Telecom recreates itself as a private company from a government agency. More than 15,000 of its roughly 102,000 workers had big job changes in the last five years as a result of the privatization, he said.
He said the company would have to do a lot in the coming weeks to help resolve the suicide problem.
It's a serious issue. We have to deal with it, he said.
(Reporting by Sinead Carew; Editing by Richard Chang)