The 2011/11/10 at 06:00
"Flexibility", "reactivity", "adaptability", "labour cost"... Evolutions in work-related terminology, more specifically, in the domain of management, are a cause for concern when we take a closer look at them. This is the task tackled by freelance journalist Isabelle Bourboulon in Le Livre noir du management (The Black Book of Management), which retraces the origins of this discipline born in the 19th century in France and the United States.
As indicated by its name, the book does not provide a rose-tinted view. Yet Isabelle Bourboulon’s examination of contestable methods, used in the private as well as public sector, offers necessary insight. Indeed, numerous studies show that in France, work has a stronger social function than elsewhere. Such studies also demonstrate that French employees perceive a real degradation in their work conditions. And management, as well as other disciplines relating to human resources, does not escape questioning.
In the second part of the book, the author proposes a few alternative methods that in her opinion have proved their mettle.
Commerce International: In your book, you describe the “exponential growth of the professional healthcare market”. Do you believe in the effectiveness of these methods?
Isabelle Bourboulon: "Unfortunately, I don’t have much faith in the effectiveness of these interventions that are most often limited to ‘putting out the fire’ of psychological suffering (psychosocial problems, stress, depression, burn out, etc.) due to current management methods. An estimated 4,000 or so psychologists and psychoanalysts are hired by businesses and service companies to provide services for employees. To such a point that the profession itself is beginning to question its own role towards businesses. The survey that I carried out reveals that in France, we are confronted by a genuine work crisis, and on this point, I completely agree with the researcher Yves Clot(1) who suggests questioning the quality of work itself, by opening up debate in businesses between all concerned parties.”
Managerial training also has a role to play. What influence can be wielded by heavyweights such as HEC in the face of degrading work conditions?
I.B.: "‘Major Alternative Management’, supervised by Eve Chiapello at HEC, is an excellent initiative, even if it only concerns a limited number of students as it is a final-year specialisation module. What is interesting about this major, apart from the fact that it appeals to the student’s critical faculties, is that it seeks how to reconcile effectiveness in the production of goods and services with essential values for the survival and wellbeing of our societies, such as the respect of nature, the development of individuals and the respect of their search for meaning. As an extension of this programme, it is also worthwhile paying attention to the Alternative Management Observatory (www.hec.fr/amo), a place for exchange and discussion to further the renewal of managerial practices for better integration of human and social dimensions. This observatory not only welcomes students but also researchers and professionals from the economic sphere.”
“The sacrificial work ethic has disappeared amongst young people” and managers now must take this development into account. Can the same evolution in the private sphere be observed elsewhere in Europe?
I.B.: "We are no doubt not far off the track when we say that this is quite a widespread evolution, at least in Europe, even if in France a specific conflictuality exists. Indeed, this was demonstrated by a survey, a European one, by Dominique Méda and Lucie Davoine(2): the French say that work has too great a hold on their lives, but at the same time they wish to get more out of it than they put in, that is, find satisfaction, fulfilment and pride. Work thus has a very strong social function in France. However, today we observe that many employees and executives, not just young people, have a tendency to avoid involvement.”
What contribution is made to management practices by the developing social and solidarity economy, which is “in sync with the expectations of the political world”?
I.B.: "In the current work crisis situation, the social and solidarity economy (SSE) is a valuable example for various reasons. Firstly, because full-time permanent contracts, and the respect of collective conventions and persons are de rigueur. Next, because the SSE operates according to the principles of participatory democracy: elected leaders, collective decision-making bodies following the principle of ‘one person, one voice’, profits aimed primarily at activity development. As far as managerial training goes, the main difference with classic training is the introduction of a double competence for managers, economic and social. In the programmes they are offered, we find for example human indicators on collaboration with partners, consideration of sustainability, the social utility of the service rendered in a given territory, and so on.”
(1) Y.Clot, Le travail à cœur, Paris, La Découverte, 2010.
(2) L. Davoine et D. Méda, Place et sens du travail en Europe. Une singularité française ?, Centre d’étude de l’emploi, février 2008.
Le Livre noir du management, d’Isabelle Bourboulon, Bayard éditions (septembre 2011), 282 pages, 19 euros