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Thoughts for the Future of Work by the French philosopher, Gabrielle Halpern

As part of the European Week for the Employment of People with Disabilities, the philosopher Gabrielle Halpern led a reflection on the way in which 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] could be a source of inspiration for transforming tomorrow's world of work.

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.

"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.

To do this, the study is based on a series of interviews carried out with an exploratory sample of stakeholders from supported employment enterprises and services (ESAT), from a variety of perspectives: directors, workshop instructors, educators, workers, psychologists, etc., taking care to vary the sectors, territories and situations. It compares them with my philosophy of hybridisation in order to sketch out the prospects for tomorrow's world of work.

Rethinking the meaning of work

"As its name suggests, an ESAT - an establishment or service providing support through work - is a form of support through work, which means that work is a means, a tool for support, not an end in itself. What's important is the individual, his or her skills, wishes and prospects. Every time, we try to link work to this objective of support", explains one establishment director. So is work not an end in itself, but a means to an end?

Work as a means, not an end?

This question, which is obvious in the sheltered environment, could perhaps be relevant to understanding the current upheavals in the relationship to work in the ordinary environment. In fact, our society is going through a change in the space given to work in life, which has accelerated with the health crisis. This is not a questioning of work as such, but of the space and predominance it is taking, to the detriment of other important aspects of life: family, rest, health and so on. Whereas in the past, in the ordinary environment, work was the centre of gravity around which everything else revolved, it has to be said that this gravity is migrating and that workers, whatever their situation (private sector employee, public sector employee, self-employed), aspire to build new balances. Workers can no longer be considered in isolation from their lives, their families, their housing, their mobility or their health. One ESAT director reminds us that "we need to look at the whole person, rather than cutting them into ten pieces"; hence the importance of setting up a multi-disciplinary team around people with disabilities.

Furthermore, according to a French study on trends in human resources in the mainstream workplace, "when we look to the future (one to three years ahead), managers rank improving well-being as the second-last priority for transforming work. Whereas employees put it in their top three! ". According to another study for both respondents in general and those under the age of 35, the idea that "companies are a place for personal fulfilment" comes last; the idea that their work is recognised at its fair value by their employer concerns only a small half of the respondents. This echoes the work of French sociologist Dominique Méda on the lack of recognition and working conditions, leading to the conclusion that "work has become unbearable ". We are faced with a form of paradox, which could be one of the keys to the current malaise in the ordinary environment: work seems to be considered too much as an end in itself, while not being valued enough...

Rethinking our relationship with time

Considering work as a means to an end, rather than as an end in itself, could well be a salutary approach for mainstream society and foster a different hierarchy of priorities and values. This does not mean that work should be relegated to the background, but that its value should be linked to that of the person doing it.

Indeed, while there is currently a kind of crisis regarding the meaning of work in the ordinary environment, it is perhaps an opportunity to question what is really important in work. 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. 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.

Reconciling with the future

This relationship with time in the sheltered environment seems to have an impact on the relationship with the future. In the exploratory sample, a personalised project is drawn up with each disabled person to set the horizon to be reached - according to their wishes - by putting the present at the service of this horizon, and this project therefore effectively places the person in the future. Whereas in the ordinary world, a worker is first judged on the basis of his or her past (curriculum vitae, diplomas, professional experience, etc.) and his or her future is shaped by this past and present, the approach seems to be reversed in the sheltered environment. It is the future that gives meaning to the present and the past, and that serves as a guide to the worker's activities.

This relationship with the future can be particularly inspiring not only in the ordinary environment, but also in the life of the society in general, where meaning is almost systematically sought in the past, as if the role of the past were to be a grid for reading and justifying the present and the future. "It's not my job", "that's the way we've always done it", "it's not our corporate culture"... Enterprises too are finding it hard to escape this sick relationship with time, which we might describe as "chronopathology" (i.e. concept built by Gabrielle Halpern). "This can be seen in the difficulty they have in thinking about their strategy, their raison d'être, innovation, customers, partners and competitors, or even human resources, without seeking to legitimise them through their past history. But how does the past give legitimacy to anything? On an individual level, this leads us to give up all free will, to live in the way we have always lived, to decide in the way we have always decided. Consistency, which has become a real moral value, leads us to fall back on the past, rather than daring to take risks, and so all our political, economic, professional and personal decisions are taken in complete harmony with the past. We are terrified of contradicting ourselves, of being inconsistent with ourselves and with what we once were.

Is it because we don't want to transgress the moral value that coherence has become that we don't dare change jobs or follow different training courses? And for a company, to change sector, strategy, brand or culture? Only the future will give meaning to who we are, what we do, what we were and what we did. It is to the future that we must learn to be faithful!

This loyalty to the future is perhaps the whole point of what is known as "self-determination" in the sheltered environment - i.e. the ability to exercise choices freely. "This philosophy should have meaning and value not just for workers with disabilities, but for all workers. Self-determination, in relation to the future and no longer in relation to the past, means rediscovering one's free will, and therefore one's humanity.

Giving value back to work and to people

On rereading the interviews conducted, the most common lexical field is that of learning: learning, training, developing skills, being curious, passing on, etc. In the ESATs in the exploratory sample, almost everything seems to revolve around the development of skills, whatever they may be. The issue of training is omnipresent in the sheltered environment, which may raise questions in relation to the ordinary environment, and the ESAT appears to be a school in which the distinction between initial training and vocational or continuing training is not really relevant. This raises a question for the ordinary environment: why not think of companies were seen as schools? Suppose companies saw themselves as schools?


Within the exploratory sample, we find an approach to training that echoes the work of the intellectual Elias Canetti on metamorphosis. He says that "very few realise that they owe the best of what they are to it". Unlike metamorphosis, identity crystallises, immobilises, locks us in, assigns us to a place of residence; it is both the fruit of our view of ourselves and that of others on ourselves. In his desire to put metamorphosis back at the heart of the human being, Canetti wants to remind us of the magical power of this spontaneous disposition, which enables us to "transform ourselves into all things or to transform all things".

This idea finds a strange resonance in today's world: would the ideal project for society be one that allows and facilitates the metamorphoses of each individual instead of putting them under the house-arrest of an identity, a profession, training, a higher-level qualification (or lack of one), a socio-economic environment, a territory or a disability? Are the "great resignations" and recruitment difficulties not a revolt against the ban on metamorphosis that can reign in some companies or administrations, where employees are often assigned a professional identity? Isn't the role of parents, teachers, managers - and, by extension, that of the head of a company or public institution - and the responsibility of a Head of State to make metamorphosis possible?

In the sheltered environment, metamorphosis is achieved through training, skills development, experimentation with different professions, jobs and work environments, and medical and social support, all of which are part of the conditions for self-determination: building the power to change, and making an informed choice about one's metamorphosis. It's about creating the conditions for responsibility. "Our responsibility is to create a horizon of possibilities. We inform them, we explain these possibilities, their ins and outs, in a neutral way. Sometimes the seed we plant will germinate after a few months, sometimes more. We help the worker, we show him things so that he can see whether a particular choice is right for him or not. We help them to realise that they can make informed choices. I often use Plato's image of the cave, because that's what it's all about: getting out of the cave and seeing the sun. My role is to make them aware of what's possible", explains one ESAT manager. Another added: "It's a projection process - we project possible jobs and career paths".

All this is part of the idea of "self-determination", which is both a responsibility of one party (the worker) and a responsibility of the other (the supervisory team): it creates a form of mutual accountability between the parties involved. A workshop instructor explains that it is easier to involve the worker when he has understood that the training is useful for him, for his career: "We take preparatory action to ensure that the training is a success".

This also requires us to think of the ESAT as a permanent school. One training-path coordinator explains: "We take in people who have no skills and we train them". Couldn't this responsibility shouldered by the sheltered environment inspire the mainstream environment? The think tank Fondation Jean-Jaurès' annual study on "Young people and business" shows that "for half of young people (and even for 56% of current students), lack of experience is the main obstacle to getting their first job"... A workshop instructor who had previously worked in the ordinary environment remembers: "In the mainstream environment, training has to be very quick, you have to be operational straight away, only production counts... Here, at the ESAT, we have time, we have time to train. It's people before production". One worker, who has had several negative experiences in a mainstream environment, adds: "In a mainstream environment, you have to know everything, you're supposed to know everything, so you have a poor self-image if you don't know. We ask for help, but our colleagues and the manager don't have the time to help us, because of the pace. My former manager didn't take the time to help me, although he should have been tolerant - he went through that himself when he started, and so did everyone else!

For their part, this responsibility is taken on by the workers, many of whom have a thirst for learning and are curious: "A lot of them have experienced a lot of frustration with learning, so they have a huge desire to learn, to progress", explains one ESAT manager. It's a form of revenge for them, they want to prove that they can do as well as the others; they want to break down prejudices!

"A training culture is created, which creates and cultivates a dynamic", explains a workshop instructor. The training courses work because they have been prepared, supported and explained. A head of the training department explains: "We know the workers well, so we make sure that the training courses are successful. In the mainstream environment, people are too often sent on training courses without any preparation, in which case the courses are useless; for some, training is seen as a due, but it leads nowhere, it's a waste of time".

This approach to lifelong learning has implications for the relationships between the instructors and the workers, and between the workers themselves. "The work group is often organised in pairs; this ensures that the work is passed on from one to the other, and teaches each person to adapt to the other, to his or her pace and way of working. It also cultivates a mutual support mindset. Each person is the other person's teacher; each person is the other person's pupil", explains a workshop instructor. This concept of the relationship with others seems to be a lever for thinking differently about the relationship between the individual and the collective. How can we allow the individual to exist within the group without undermining it with individual selfishness? How can we enable the collective to exist for individuals while respecting their individuality? You can't build a collective if you don't first allow each individual to build and emancipate him or herself. Many collective adventures have failed because they were unable to place each individual at their heart, because they were unable to develop the freedom, and therefore the responsibility, of each individual.

Are we what we do?

The writer Yasmina Reza explains 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. Does this mean that "I am" isn’t dependent on "I think", but rather on "I do"? In the sheltered environment, this link between work and identity seems very strong. "It's a way of positioning ourselves in society, identifying with something," explains the director of an ESAT. "Everyone introduces themselves through their job, which creates a sense of belonging and a social bond", adds a specialised educator. "The feeling of social usefulness and pride in one's work helps to rebuild self-esteem and primary identity security", confirms the IGAS/IGF report.

And it is perhaps precisely because this link is so strong that many of the establishments in the exploratory sample develop multi-skilling among the workers they support: "We develop skills in the people we support, by teaching them one activity and then another, which enables them to go further each time", explains one ESAT manager. New arrivals are welcomed as part of an internship, and are given the opportunity to explore several workshops before choosing one of them. They are then given the opportunity to learn different trades within the workshop, and then other trades within other workshops over the following months, depending on their skills.

But, let’s be careful here - it's not moving superficially from one activity to another, but rather of learning each one to the point of mastering it and practising it completely independently, before turning to another. One disabled worker explains: "First, I have to master what I've just learned before I can learn something new. First, I learn to be independent, then I can move on to another job". This is part of the idea of "self-determination", which in this case means being able to try out as many jobs as possible, to test yourself in different positions so that you can make an informed choice. "I call it a right to discovery, a right to experimentation, a right to apprenticeship", explains one ESAT director. At a time when young people are increasingly being asked to choose their studies and career path at an early age, this opportunity offered to everyone in a sheltered environment to discover, try out and learn several jobs, before being able to make an informed choice, is particularly visionary and could, in the ordinary environment, prevent many people from dropping out of school and dropping out of the world of work.

Finally, this diversification of activities reveals the strengths, talents and previously hidden facets of a worker. "Each activity, each trade in its own right, reveals a worker. By teaching a worker another trade, by having him change workshops, we enable him to work on a behaviour that arises from or is maintained by a particular activity; the fact of having him work with other supervisors is also important and enables him to change his behaviour; the modification of work constraints by changing jobs also enables a worker to contain himself, to regain composure, to set limits and we can therefore avoid a resignation", explains the director of an ESAT. This is a very interesting idea, because it reminds us that the nature of an activity can give rise to or cultivate a particular way of being. Depending on what I do all day, I will behave in a particular way. "I remember one person who was very anxious, and therefore very agitated, when she was working in the cookery workshop; coming to the dressmaking workshop transformed her, she became very calm and concentrated", explains a workshop instructor. It's not just the nature of the work that induces different ways of being and behaving, but also the working environment (working outdoors or in a closed room), interactions with colleagues, etc. Apart from the fact that this means that disability is relative and that we need to find the activity that will reveal each person's strengths, it also means that the obstacles, difficulties and limitations experienced in one job may disappear in another.

This training in different trades, sectors and activities has several consequences: multi-skilling leads to a real sense of solidarity and mutual help from one workshop to another when there is over-activity requiring the help of additional workers: "That's how we are, we help our colleagues", explains a mentally handicapped worker. In addition, multi-skilling creates a cross-functionality between the workshops, trades and sectors in which the ESAT is positioned, which also allows a form of transposition of skills from one workshop to another, from one trade to another, from one sector to another, and therefore a form of hybridisation of skills. "All the activities are on the same site, so it creates bridges", explains one ESAT deputy director. This calls into question the division of labour - a dogma that has structured the world of work for centuries.

Indeed, according to Adam Smith, the division of labour leads to increased productivity - incidentally, he didn't invent anything, as Plato, centuries before him, said that "a thing is best done when each person does only one thing" - except that workers - and more particularly the younger generations - understand that what we gain in productivity, we lose in meaning and time, with a terrible difficulty in coordinating and sharing information. The ESATs we met therefore seem to be inventing a form of work hybridisation which enables workers to become "centaurs". In other words, they have one foot in several worlds. This should be a source of inspiration for the mainstream environment, because the division of labour has shown its limits and its dangers, by causing an impoverishment, a narrowing and an absurdity of professions.

Not only would the hybridisation of careers, skills, professions, career paths, activities and job descriptions enable employees to feel more fulfilled and rediscover the meaning of their work - and this would be an attractive factor for recruitment - but this hybridisation would also bring new skills, new profiles and new ways of working into companies. Instead of being locked into its own business, sector or culture, a company could at last open up to other sectors, other horizons, methods and systems from professional worlds other than its own, and this open-mindedness would enable it to be more innovative, more welcoming to potential allies in devising new products, services, methods and partnerships. So we'll be stronger when the next pandemic or computer virus arrives...

Fulfilment at work

Multi-skilling is part of a fulfilling work environment. "Everything is done to avoid boredom", explains a workshop instructor, who ensures that workers never do the same activity all day or all week. This diversification of activities also makes it possible to take into account their arduousness and to adapt to each individual, including their disability, with activities in a standing position in the morning, for example, and activities in a seated position in the afternoon to avoid fatigue.

Discovering different jobs, practising a variety of activities and trades creates "joy in getting involved: ESAT workers exceed their expectations, they are amazed at what they can do and happy to go beyond their limits month after month", explains one ESAT director. If we are what we do, then learning a wide range of activities and discovering different trades is a way of developing and enhancing our being. The emphasis placed on recognising the work and the value of the work done by disabled workers then takes on a whole new meaning: recognising what others do, recognising the value of what they do, means recognising that they exist.

There is plenty here to inspire the ordinary environment in its managerial approach, given workers' need for fulfilment and recognition. The Fondation Jean-Jaurès' annual study on "Young people and the corporation", published in 2022, reveals an accentuation of the trend observed in 2021 of the importance of the notion of "fulfilment" in young people's expectations of their work, their manager and the company in general: "Indeed, while creating jobs and employing people remains the main role of a company for young people today (51% of young people think this), this mission is being strongly challenged by the "fulfilment" function that young people see in companies. And this is all the more interesting given that this role has been on the increase over the past year: whereas last year 34% of young people thought that the main role of a company was to give its employees the means to fulfil themselves professionally, this is now the case for 40% of them (including 45% of young women and 50% of young people already living with a partner). Similarly, 31% of young people believe that an ideal manager is first and foremost one who creates a fulfilling working environment: 40% of those with 3 or more years of higher education and 37% of women think this (...). Fulfilment is closely linked to another notion, that of recognition, the fact of seeing the work done 'recognised' for its true value. Moreover, for 30% of young people, the ideal manager is first and foremost one who recognises the work done"...

Strengthening the relationship

Within the exploratory sample, each worker receives support with a personalised project, so that the activities they carry out are tailored to their individuality, needs, constraints (linked to their disability) and life situation.

A tailor-made world of work?

"We adapt to the individual according to their problems and character," explains one workshop instructor. This "made-to-measure" approach to each worker requires a great deal of adaptability on the part of the organisation, creativity in finding solutions and dealing with the unexpected, as well as a genuine ability to listen to each individual: from one day to the next, from one week to the next, needs or constraints linked to the disability, such as fatigue, may require a change of activity. All the stakeholders interviewed in the sample explained the way in which they adapted to each individual, - "We have the workers work in pairs, which change very often and the monitors recreate them each time: depending on their state of mind, their timetable, whether they don't feel well or want to be with this or that other person, etc. We adapt on a case-by-case basis, depending on the worker, their mental state and how tired they are, to create an effective alchemy", explains the director of an ESAT.

This made-to-measure managerial approach is still being applied timidly in the mainstream environment, despite legislative advances in terms of quality of life at work - even though the new generations, recognition of family carers and the need for a balance with private life are helping to develop it, often at breakneck speed. It is still too often considered a taboo subject, in favour of a standardised approach to teams where the collective takes precedence over the individual. The example of carers is an interesting example: some mainstream companies have introduced flexible working hours, personalised management and special leave arrangements. Some studies indicate that these measures have a positive impact on the firm itself, since they reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and efficiency at work, improve the attractiveness of the company and reduce staff turnover. Many other schemes have yet to be invented, but it has to be said that helping carers is not only useful for them, but also helps companies to move forward by encouraging them to question themselves, even if it means questioning real taboos, such as allowing employees to make up their own schedules and choose their working hours... At a time when some companies and sectors are finding it hard to recruit, lifting these taboos could prove to be a very welcome development.

A tailor-made approach to the worker could therefore help to create the conditions that would enable everyone to do their job well, and would challenge another dogma of the world of mainstream work, namely interchangeability. "In the mainstream workplace, everything is anonymised: a job offer or job description is based on interchangeability - we're looking for a driver, we need a mechanic, we're filling a hole in the organisation chart", explains one ESAT director. By developing a made-to-measure approach, we create the conditions to bring out and value the individuality of each person. As well as contributing to a sense of existence, and therefore personal fulfilment, this approach stimulates everyone's commitment and helps to build the right balance between the individual and the group.

Furthermore, the tailor-made approach to work, which seems obvious and natural in sheltered environments as opposed to ordinary environments, is part of a general transformation of society towards an era of tailor-made solutions. If industrial society has been structured around a standardised approach, based on mass society and its consumerist gregariousness - Henry Ford's famous phrase: "the customer can choose the colour of his car, as long as it's black" - and if all of industry is founded on the belief in homogeneity, we are witnessing a challenge to this homogeneity through a demand for personalisation that is appearing in almost every field (tourism, education, culture, leisure, etc.). Industrial society is being transformed into what we might call a "differential society". The world of work is no exception, and the growth in the number of workers making the deliberate (rather than involuntary) choice to become self-employed can also be explained by this unsatisfied thirst for recognition of the individual's singularity within the work group, and the individual's need to be considered as such.

The advent of the made-to-measure era signals the end of the standard in human resources management and, from this point of view, the sheltered environment seems to be a pioneer, and even a visionary, in the hyper-personalised approach it has been able to invent and develop. This capacity for social innovation demonstrated by the sheltered environment has been very well described in particular by Monique Combes-Joret in her research which highlights the introduction of 'empowering' working methods and organisational models, echoing the approaches to capabilities of Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen.

Giving management a new raison d'être

As well as listening, one word comes up very often in interviews with stakeholders: looking. Being a workshop instructor - and, more generally, working with people with disabilities in a ESAT - requires you to develop the art of looking, to learn to pay attention to the visual details that provide information about the worker's general state that they’re not necessarily aware of or can express. "You have to be genuinely interested in other people to develop a way of looking at them... That's the definition of a good manager," explains one specialist educator. This implies the creation of a genuine relationship between the workshop instructor and the worker, which could inspire the ordinary environment in the relationships between the manager and his/her teams.

So what is the right relationship with the other, one that does not destroy me, that does not denature me, that does not threaten me, that does not overwhelm me, but on the contrary enhances me, helps me grow, nourishes me, alters me - in the positive sense of the term? The philosophy of hybridisation asks precisely this question, and the figure of the centaur provides the answer. In the centaur, what is the relationship between the human part and the horse part? Are they in a relationship of fusion where we no longer know which is which? Are they in a relationship of juxtaposition where they coexist, but each leads its own life with indifference to the other, or are they in a relationship of assimilation, where one part tries to take precedence over the other and make it disappear? These three types of relationship - fusion, juxtaposition or assimilation - are the three pitfalls of a relationship with another, and this is true in the realms of friendship, work, love and geopolitics. But there is a fourth way - hybridisation - in other words, "reciprocal metamorphosis" (i.e. concept built by Gabrielle Halpern). "Each party must transform itself through contact with the other for there to be an encounter, and therefore the creation of a third world, that of the relationship.

The art of looking developed and deployed within the ESATs surveyed appears to be a lever for bringing about a reciprocal metamorphosis between the monitor and the worker, between two workers who work together and who learn to look at each other, to consider each other's pace, needs, specificities, expertise and frailties. This art of looking may shed new light on the right managerial relationship to develop in the mainstream environment.

Towards a new social contract?

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...

In fact, many freelancers who have deliberately chosen to work for themselves are highly qualified and possess rare skills that are particularly prized by companies. At a time when they are at the peak of their employability and companies are vying for them, these workers are nonetheless opting for freelance status... A study conducted by Malt and the Boston Consulting Group shows that the major benefits identified by freelancers are the autonomy they enjoy as part of their desire for independence, the flexibility to organise their schedule and choose their place of work, and the freedom to choose the clients and assignments that interest them. Another study indicates that 30% of executives have "thought about resigning to go freelance"; they associate freelancing with "the freedom to organise your time" (cited as the number one advantage by 21% of respondents), to "choose your assignments" (20%), the absence of a hierarchy (13%), and "the opportunity of working more on subjects you enjoy" (11%). 81% of respondents believe that "freelancing is fairly well suited to the current expectations of working people".

This highlights an essential element in the choice of self-employed status: self-determination, which, if it is not sufficiently taken into account in the ordinary environment, if it is not fully developed and guaranteed, can only be possible outside the corporation. The possibility of self-determination is therefore essential not only for workers in sheltered environments, but also for all workers in ordinary environments, to combat de-individualisation, depersonalisation and disempowerment, where workers are no longer players in their working lives, and therefore in their own lives. The self-determination expertise of the stakeholders we met in the exploratory sample could be invaluable in inspiring the mainstream environment... And it's urgent.

Is this the end of the business (or government) 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.).

The Malt study also shows that freelancers spend an average of half a day a week developing or honing their skills: "Freelancers are the undisputed masters of training - if they want to continue to be attractive, training is the key". This is part of the logic of attractiveness, but also part of the logic of fulfilment, which echoes the study on "Young people and the company": "How can young people achieve this quest for fulfilment within the company (the notion of fulfilment to be understood here as the fact of acquiring the fullness of one's intellectual or physical faculties)? Firstly, by offering them the opportunity to learn, whatever their age, position or status - 6 out of 10 young people, for example, want to learn and undergo training throughout their lives".

If we often hear talk of a loss of meaning in the world of work, it could be that this is linked to a loss of confidence that undermines the possibilities for fulfilment. But "fulfilment is attained by giving young people more autonomy and more confidence (29% of young people, for example, consider that management based on autonomy and confidence is what is lacking most in company management today). This feeling of a lack of autonomy and trust is also reflected in the values that would make them most want to join a company: respect (57% of young people list this value first), and trust (44% of young people believe that this is the value that would make them most want to join a company)".

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?"

A prospective paper, written par the French philosopher Gabrielle Halpern.



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