Multilingual Business Communication

April 9, 2009

Deutsche Bahn boss resigns over spying scandal

Filed under: crisis communication, Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer — Tags: , — meertaligebedrijfscommunicatie @ 12:33 pm

mehdorn7Hartmut Mehdorn, the head of German rail operator Deutsche Bahn, offered his resignation last week after weeks of continuous criticism by German politicians. Mr. Mehdorn admitted in February that Deutsche Bahn had spied on its employees as part of an anti-corruption campaign. Private investigators were hired to tail employees and tens of thousands of e-mails were screened for criticism against the company. Deutsche Bahn would have accessed confidential personnel information from 1998 until 2006. In 2002 and 2003 alone, the company would have surveilled 173.000 of its 220.000 employees, without informing the trade unions.

Germany was shocked by the scandal, especially because there did not appear to be a reason for the surveillance whatsoever. There were no complaints that would lead to suspect corruption in the company. The fact that Deutsche Bahn did not notify the trade unions also incited a lot of criticism.

Mr. Mehdorn admitted that the trade unions should have been informed, but he did not apologize for the mistake, something the trade unions did not appreciate. Furthermore, he was heavily criticized for his perceived arrogance in the affair, refusing to resign and stressing that his company did not break the law. In my opinion, it is of vital importance that you show regret as a company when you cause such a shock among your stakeholders. Mr. Mehdorn could have handled this crisis better.

Last week he eventually gave in to the pressure and offered his resignation. “Although he had done nothing wrong, he wanted to end the destructive debates for Deutsche Bahn”.

Liesbeth Van Den Mosselaer


1 Comment »

  1. It seems that Deutsche Bahn is not the only place where spying occurred. The German magazine Stern has discovered that the management of Lidl had hidden cameras installed in several branches in Germany. Journalists of the magazine were able to look into hundreds of pages containing information about employees and even transcripts of conversations. Lidl does not deny the existence of the documents but states that the information was only used to reveal possible misbehaviour. I cannot agree with Lidl’s motivation. The employees will feel observed and this will definitely have an influence on work performance.

    Comment by Wouter Deconinck — April 9, 2009 @ 2:51 pm

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