Friday, September 18, 2009
Why The French System Is Doomed!
This blog was never supposed to be about politics but if you'll allow me, I'll make one exception with this post. Well, actually if there's anyone reading these lines besides me, feel free to let me know if this post is inappropriate!
Anyway, I really need to express my feelings about the way things are going in France and in particular, about how workers are being treated. France Telecom recently made the headlines because more than 20 of their employees committed suicide. This is, in my opinion, the tip of the iceberg. As a mental health professional, I see, everyday, people suffering from their working conditions and let me tell you, I've seen more and more of those patients in the last 3 years. It is therefore safe to assume that the increased impact of working conditions in France on mental health isn't related to the global financial crisis but, more likely, inherent to what I'm calling "The French System".
I'm sure that from a remote perspective, the French system seems appealing: 5 weeks of vacations, 4 weeks to compensate for the reduction in working hours, 35 working hour week, public health system of very high quality etc... It all looks good but in practice, it is failing and is doomed to bring my nation to its knees. Here's why:
We have a high level of unemployment here and this has been the case for a long time. So, someone wrongly thought that a good solution would be to make it unlawful to work more than 35 hours per week in order to create more jobs. Unfortunately, the cost of employing someone is so high in this country that this reduction in working hours only had a marginal effect on the unemployment rate. What it actually lead to is to make people do in 35 hours what they used to do in 39 hours and before 40 hours. So, people work less but when they work, they don't have a single second to themselves. They have to fulfill their goals no matter what. So basically, what happens is that they do in 35 hours what they were supposed to do in 40 hours but they are a lot more stressed and a lot more inclined to making errors.
And if this wasn't enough, everything now has to fit within procedures (and that word is probably the most popular in the 21st century... People keep creating procedures for the sake of creating procedures as if the world was suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder...). So, if you could do something in 5 mns, you actually can't anymore because if some stupid jerk created a 2-hour long procedure to complete the task that you have at hand, you don't have any other choice than to comply!
Why were procedures created? My bet is that it originally aimed at ensuring quality of service and standardization. What it lead to is decreased quality and the feeling amongst workers that they are machines, incapable of making simple decisions, at least, in the eyes of their managers. Their basic existence and human qualities are denied in the working place. This leads to a great deal a frustration.
So, the 2 key factors: increased work load due to reduction in working hours and "proceduralization" lead to creating frustrated, stressed and unhappy workers. These workers, scared of losing their jobs, will stand this pressure for as long as they can... Until they can't deal with it anymore and end up being mentally sick (i.e. depressed). Some are on a sick leave for more than six months and many amongst those can't go back to work because the simple thought of it scares them to death. Some, of course, will never say a word until one day, they get to work in the morning, tie a rope around their neck and hang themselves.
I can't imagine that management isn't aware of this problem. And if they're not, how lousy managers they must be! It is my belief that managers are pushed to squeeze workers into being ever more productive because they are threatened in the same way by their hierarchy.
The French are supposed to be very productive but this fact doesn't take into account the amount of sick workers created by the system.
One last thing that I can't avoid to question: how can it be that people suffering from poor working conditions become sick and will in the end be paid by social security when they're on a sick leave or on a disability pension? This can only lead to increase the cost of the working force and create even more sick people which the state will have to look after!
It is my belief that this will lead to the failure of our system if nothing is done to change things. It is, of course, my personal opinion but as a mental health professional, I see sick people everyday and they all tell the same story whether they work in the private or public sector.
Anyone can notice the effects of what's going on: nothing works anymore in this country. Customer service is a joke (because customer service representatives suffer from I've just described. I don't blame them. They're just trying to cope with the system but in the end, they have so much to do that they're bound to make errors or overlook some tasks). "Proceduralization" makes it almost impossible to get anything done in a reasonable amount of time!
Now you might ask me: why did I write this blog entry when it is only related to France? Well, mostly, because I think we have already passed the point of no return where French has become an obsolete language and the failure of our system is inevitable.