Friday, May 21, 2010

Suicides Among Euro Disney (Disneyland Paris) Cast Members

In mid-April, Franck, a Euro Disney Chef, committed suicide. As one might be expect from a company with such a family-friendly image to uphold, the news of the suicide was quite controversial. As one blogger noted, “The image of chain-smoking, suicidal Frenchmen may not be quite the image Disney is going for at the Magic Kingdom” (Turley, 2010). Furthermore, this suicide is one of three that have already occurred this year among Euro Disney employees--two of them chefs. The other chef committed suicide by throwing “himself in front of a train after working in conditions which a trade union spokesman called ‘humiliating’ (Roussel, 2010).

Franck committed suicide on the day he was to return to work after a period of sick leave. Ten days after the suicide, a note was found in his home reading, “Je ne veux pas retourner chez Mickey” (I don't want to work for Mickey any more) (Lichfield, 2010). The note only added fuel to the controversy as many earlier voices had already pointed fingers at Euro Disney in causing the suicides.

These suicide incidents have been compared to last year's suicides among France Telecom's employees (Souchard, 2010). In 2008 and 2009, France Telecom dealt with 35 employee suicides and 14 of those are “considered directly linked with the company's managerial techniques – such as pressuring employees to change jobs or giving them work the employees considered ‘devaluing’” (Hall, 2010).

Many workers unions have taken the recent suicide as opportunities to pursue better working conditions for employees. Fortunately for Disney, all but one of the unions, Force Ouvrière (FO), agreed to cooperate on a "social audit" of the parks to assess needed improvements in working conditions. FO would not make any compromises and continue to pursue its own agenda. While passionately condemning Disney for the most recent suicide, the FO website read, “I remain convinced that the tragedy that has happened could have been avoided” (Mboe, 2010). The other unions have condemned FO for "exploiting" (Lichfield, 2010) the sensitive suicide incident.

Euro Disney believes the suicides were not direct results of employment conditions at the resort. Jeff Archambault, vice president of communications for Euro Disney  stated, “We do not accept that either of these tragic events [the suicides] can be directly linked to Disneyland, Paris. But we do recognise that, with the financial crisis, all of us are under increased stress. At home. At work” (Lichfield, 2010).

While many have pointed fingers at Euro Disney’s working conditions as the cause of the suicides, Disney has been working in accordance with French law. According to one report, Disney’s employment practices had been certified a day before one of the deaths (Frost, 2010). Just after the suicide, Euro Disney issued a press release detailing the company's long- and short-term actionable plans to pursue better psychological and physical health among its employees.  The press release also mentioned that the company would analyze current working conditions among its employees--the so-called “social audit” (Manologlou, 2010)

Many have speculated about the effects the suicides and their subsequent press coverage have had on Euro Disney. On a recent poll by, 48% of respondents said the incidents weren't cause for forming negative opinions about the park. These respondents concluded that with such tragedies, specific causes are difficult to pinpoint and that “many workplaces are stressful” (Traub, 2010).

And yet, it seems that French public opinion still holds a bad taste for Disney. Consequently, many Disney employees have been led to find relationships between the poor working conditions and the suicides. One Euro Disney employees, Herve Saumade, a maintenance worker, said, “What we sell is something wonderful. We sell smiles. We sell the happiness of children. We all love our jobs, or what our jobs represent. But in the last few years, there has been a new management approach, which has, in many cases, made our working lives intolerable” (Lichfield, 2010). The FO also accused Euro Disney of a poor management structure that led to too few employees for too much work.

Employee suicides linked to poor work environments conjure many questions to be considered. First, what was the cause of the tragedies? As suicide is such a complex and individual issue, the exact causes will probably remain unknown.

In the case with the France Telecom suicides, after thousands of layoffs, remaining employees became de-motivated or depressed because their job security had decreased. These employees also had to increase their workloads in order to make up for a smaller workforce.

In a May 2010 report issued by Euro Disney, attendance dropped along with revenue while costs remained the same (Manologlou, 2010). Clearly, the current global economic crisis has affected Euro Disney. But an economic crisis will put a great deal of strain on any business. However, when these economic crises arise, how should a company like Euro Disney handle cost-cutting measures like layoffs, higher workloads, and fewer employee benefits and resources? If circumstances allow, this might be the time for a company to cash out its reserves (if it has any) and spend more in order to keep employees and continued benefits. This is not only good for operations, but also good public relations. Perhaps, Euro Disney needs to rely on the revenue of the other Disney parks during poor economic crises situated in Europe. 

This may also be an issue of cross-cultural management styles. Historically, the French have never been wholly gleeful about a Disneyland Paris. In 1992, when the park was first opened, many called it “a cultural Chernobyl” (Corliss, 1992). American Disney executives need to understand the cultural differences of the French working styles. They need to be prepared to accommodate their French employees in ways that respect their culture while still upholding Disney core values. In short, an understanding of culture needs to be reached and compromises to the current system must be made.

While two of the suicides were committed by chefs, perhaps a detailed audit needs to be taken of the food department. Is there a manager in the food department who is running his or her employees into the ground? The said manager may be younger and less experienced than some of the other staff, while the employees who committed suicide were fairly seasoned employees. Many of the unions claimed that in the last six years, a younger management has taken over in the park (Lichfield, 2010).

After the social audit, when and if Disney decides to restructure policies and organization, I would submit that better motivation factors need to be put into place for employees. Promotions need to be made to employees who have worked at the park for long periods of time.

Giving the chefs in the food department more recognition might also help to stem problems of depression and job dissatisfaction. One idea might be to allow the chefs to greet and eat with guests during meal character greetings. Another idea would be to reward chefs who perform admirably the opportunities to create new items for the menu at their respective in-park restaurants.

On a more general, park-wide level, management should allow employees the opportunities to perform more diverse roles, thus breaking up the monotony. An employee who works as a ride operator in the morning, might enjoy the experience of waiting and greeting guests at a restaurant in the evening. Maybe an employee in custodial might be given the opportunity to perform crowd control during one of the shows.

Another future plan for Euro Disney might be to instruct managers to become more mindful of their employees’ stress levels and attitudes. They should be instructed on how to read suicide warning signs among their employees and how to offer them assistance from the proper counseling services. It would also be wise for Euro Disney to hold motivational, team-building workshops. They could hire corporate behavioral trainers to offer motivational lectures and confidence building exercises.

From a public relations perspective, whether the suicides were directly caused by Euro Disney or not, the ensuing negative press can be devastating to an already financially stressed company. It would have probably been less expensive had Disney noticed the warning signs of poor working conditions and deficient management and corrected those problems.

As most companies have already realized, running a large corporation in the 20th and 21st centuries is not all about profit and loss. Providing optimal human resource settings can be a delicate task.

Corliss, R. (1992, April 20). Voila! Disney Invades Europe. Will the French Resist? Time. Retrieved from,9171,975357-1,00.html
Frost, J. (2010, April). Cast Member suicides shock Disneyland Paris family. Retrieved from
Hall, B. (2010, April 10). Fresh Probe on France Telecom Suicides. The Financial Times. Retrieved from
Lichfield, J. (2010, May 6). The dark side of Disneyland Paris. The Independent. Retrieved from
Manologlou, L. (2010, April 23). Euro Disney Increases Measures Aimed At Employee Well-Being In The Workplace [Press Release]. Retrieved from
Manologlou, L. (2010, May 11). Euro Disney S.C.A. - Reports 2010 First Half Results [Press Release]. Retrieved from
Mboe, G. (2010, April). Disneyland Paris: an Employee Commits Suicide. Retrieved from
Roussel, C. (2010, April 2). Suicides shock France's Disney park. The Independent. Retrieved from
Souchard, P. (2010, April 9). France Telecom Suicides: Authorities Probe Dozens Of Mysterious Employee Suicides. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from
Traub, C. (2010, April 2). Disneyland Paris Investigates Worker Suicides. Retrieved from
Turley, J. (2010, April 5). The Unhappiest Place on Earth: Paris Disney Experiences Rash of Suicides Among Complaints Over Working Conditions. Retrieved from