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Future Of Work: The philosopher Gabrielle Halpern is a Guest Contributor at The UN Brief #UnitedNations

The philosopher Gabrielle Halpern is a guest contributor this week in The UN Brief. An opportunity for her to speak about the Future of Work, drawing attention to a more sustainable and human way of working.

French philosopher Gabrielle Halpern, is recognized among the top intellectual influencers in the country by the economic newspaper L’Opinion, this piece is a reflection on the way which we could transform tomorrow's world of work.

What will be the future of work?

"A crisis of meaning and unhappiness at work, the phenomenon of 'the Great Resignation' or 'quiet quitting', the meteoric rise in the number of self-employed people, the questioning of linear career paths, management, organisational models, places and times...  The world of work has been undergoing a number of upheavals over the last few years, accelerated by the health crisis. What if we had to change everything? What if we had to radically rethink the way work is organised in today's workplaces, whether in companies or government departments? What new approaches should be implemented? What if what we call the “sheltered environment” , where people with disabilities work, was a source of inspiration for what we call the “ordinary environment”? Indeed, it seems that the sheltered environment implies a work culture - and therefore modes of work, management and training - that are different from the ordinary environment, and the aim here is to understand to what extent this approach could help the latter to reinvent itself (…).

During the interviews that have been led with an exploratory sample of participants, a worker with a mental handicap explains that "in the ordinary environment, we are not given the time to do our work, there is such pressure to perform at a fast pace... We don't adapt to each individual's pace. In a sheltered environment, I have time to look up regularly when I'm working to rest my eyes and take care of them, because after a while, when you're at a workstation checking parts, your eyes hurt. I have time to help my colleague if she needs it. I don't count the number of parts checked, what I want is for the job to be done well, even if I do less than the day before or more than tomorrow. I've never learned to rush my work, I don't like to rush my work. And at least after my work, there's nothing to pick up! I'm very slow, but at least when I've finished my work, there's no need to check up on me, I can be trusted. Ordinary companies should accept slow people instead of denigrating them - because the most important thing is quality, not speed, isn't it? The problem with our society is that we don't accept slow people, we push them aside". Work therefore has meaning - significance - as long as it can be done well, as long as the conditions are right for it to be done well. Work has value as long as it can have value, i.e. be quality work. "Workers are fulfilled at the end of the day when they have done their work well and its quality has been recognised", explains a workshop instructor, who accompanies people with disabilities in a sheltered environment. What's the point of working if the conditions aren't right for quality work?The temporal dimension exemplified by this worker is very interesting, because it allows us to question the ordinary environment on its choices of allocation of temporal resources. The right to be slow might be considered impossible in an ordinary ‘mainstream’ company where the economic imperative is productivity; but if you can't afford to lose time doing the work, why do you accept to lose time elsewhere in 'meetings' and in administrative procedures that are often absurd? Doesn't work that's badly done and botched for the sake of productivity lead to wasted time, extra costs, financial losses, damage to customer relations, sick leave, burn-out, staff turnover and recruitment difficulties? Shouldn't every company, every association, every administration and every organisation be looking at how it allocates its time resources? Ultimately, this could give rise to a hypothesis worth exploring - it's what we choose to give time to that reveals what we attach importance to, and therefore what we value. "Well-being is never a waste of time", says one specialist educator, who works in a sheltered environment (…).

Moreover, the French writer Yasmina Reza used to explain that what takes her the longest, when she's writing a book, is finding a job for her characters. It can take her weeks, because "a job is very defining, you spend so much time on it, it determines you"... Does personal identity depend so much on professional identity? This ties in with the philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre's idea that it's our actions that make us who we are, that "actions alone decide what we wanted "that doing is a revelation of being, and that in doing, we make ourselves. This should make managers question themselves… (…).

This study, with its exploratory sample, highlights how far the mainstream workplace still has to go to create the right working conditions, not just for people with disabilities, but for all workers. Ultimately, it is its capacity for hospitality that is being called into question. This raises the question of the future of the company and its model, which, on the one hand, creates exclusion for those considered to be the most vulnerable and, on the other, is abandoned by those considered to be the strongest... Indeed, there are more and more freelancers who have deliberately chosen to work for themselves and most of them are highly qualified and possess rare skills that are particularly prized by companies.Is this the end of the business (or administrative) model as we know it?

In any case, it seems to be at a turning point - either it’s going to take a long hard look at itself, or it’s going to die. Is the trend towards voluntary freelancing a symptom of doubt about the company's ability to create suitable working conditions? In fact, it is revealing its flaws, linked to working relationships, organisation, the distribution and nature of work.

As it stands, the company model seems to be losing its relevance and suggests that it is going to have to radically reinvent itself and also rethink all its functions (human resources director, legal director, financial director, manager, etc.).Through this study, we have been able to observe the space given to self-determination in the sheltered environment, enabling each of the parties involved to take on their responsibilities and thereby demonstrate their trust in the other, to create the conditions for fulfilment and to look to the future.

All these factors contribute to the creation of a social contract that gives meaning to work, value to the human being and strength to the relationship between the individual and the collective. It is this social contract that could inspire the ordinary environment and help it reinvent itself to become... extraordinary?", Gabrielle Halpern

1/ This prospective paper, produced in partnership with Andicat [TN: French National Association of ESATs] and the Occitanie Region's Cité de l'économie et des métiers de demain (Centre for tomorrow's economy and professions), was based on interviews with an exploratory sample of participants, as well as on her research in philosophy on hybridisation.

2/ Sheltered environment places are for example in France the “Supported Employment Establishments and Services (ESATs)” [Translator’s note: ESATs in France are similar to ODEP Alliance members in the USA, BASE members in the UK or ADEs - Australian Disability Enterprises]

To read the entire study in English go here. To read the entire study in French go here.


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