For me, the philosopher was the bearded old man on the mountain,” smiles Emiko Yamaguchi, quality, safety and environment manager at CVE, a company that produces renewable energy in Marseille. But the philosopher consultant she contacted in 2019 is nothing like a hermit: Flora Bernard leads forums and conferences, in front of sometimes skeptical executives, on the major philosophical issues in the company. That day, she asked: “Is it enough to be green to be ethical? And besides, “What is ethics?” The employees debate in small groups, Flora Bernard inviting them to write down their definition. Emiko Yamaguchi is conquered. This experience teaches him that one can live and act, in life and at work, without betraying who one is.
A crisis of meaning
It would be difficult, for example, to work in a company that boasts of ecological solutions if, at home, people didn’t care about sorting or their energy consumption… “We need consistency”, emphasizes Emiko Yamaguchi. “The environmental issue has become essential, employees have become concerned about preserving their privacy and exercising a profession that questions the ‘why’ as much as the ways of doing things well”, considers the philosopher Ghislain Deslandes*. Driven by the employees themselves, the corporate philosophy has thus gained notoriety among managers, faced with a crisis of meaning for which they were not trained. Like others, Emiko Yamaguchi then subscribed to the Philonomist website, dedicated to a better understanding of the world of work, with conferences, advice and tailor-made support. She also follows the online conferences of Julia de Funès, author of Office Life (I read), who leads debates in companies. These, concerned about their social and environmental responsibilities, are increasingly questioning the collective or the art of leading troupes.
When, in 2012, Flora Bernard and Marion Genaivre** created their agency Thaé, they were asked more for “moments of breathing space”… “Workshops that our clients wanted were refreshing and friendly, remembers Flora Bernard. Since the Covid, everything has changed. Executives and managers expect us to raise fundamental questions with them, in particular on teleworking, the importance of keeping the link between employees, or even on the role of HR at a time of a serious health crisis. »
Experienced as less intrusive, philosophers would basically replace psychologists in the company, to identify problems and solve them, to advise, to put meaning and humanity back at the heart of the work… With the difference that practice has its stars, media philosophers such as Luc Ferry, André Comte-Sponville or Charles Pépin, who regularly collaborate with the Progress Management Association (APM). Other philosophers have entered the niche, such as Vincent Cespedes with Matkaline, or Laura Lange, co-founder in 2013 of Counseling Philosophy. Jean Mathy, for his part, created Noetic Bees, “whose particularity is to make philosophy a method of appropriation of change”, he explains. After an aggregation of philosophy, Sophie Chassat joined the consulting firm WeMean to support companies like Angie or LVMH… A wind of wisdom in the office that comes to us from the United States, where trendy companies, like Google, Microsoft, Apple, are now hiring “chief philosophy officers”. After the “chief happiness officer”, responsible for the happiness of a company’s employees and, by the way, their performance at work, this brand new chief philosopher would propose a more “serious” alternative to achieving happiness. In France, we would go further. Julien de Sanctis, a young doctoral student in philosophy, was recruited by a robotics company to support reflections on the development of artificial intelligence before joining Thaé. In the same logic, Sandie Colin, who was director of human resources at CVE, became director of the human project. “It’s about thinking about the model of society that we want to develop, she observes, and doing everything possible to move in this direction. » Favor committed partners or reorganize waste collection and energy management within the company to help employees waste less, for example.
Head, legs and heart too
Former “traumatized from philosophy in high school”, now project manager “transformation” at the mutual MGEN, in Paris, Baptiste Barré, for his part, asked Thaé. “Will mutualism survive its transformations? That was the question… “The important thing for us was to question our certainties, to argue. We wanted to better understand the implications and blind spots of our profession. We came away with ideas to apply in the field,” he says. Philosophy then becomes like a nautical chart and a compass: it allows you to navigate by sight, to know where you are going and where you are coming from. Director of the Bon Sauveur de la Manche Foundation, in Normandy, a reception structure for vulnerable people, Xavier Bertrand, a namesake of the politician (!), recounts, himself, having “resourced” in philosophical training at the Vaugirard Institute, branch of the Catholic Institute of Paris. Topics: “Decision-making in the face of complexity and uncertainty? », « How to reconcile personal well-being and work? », « What to do when a pandemic puts an unprecedented halt in our lives? The discussions were animated around a text by the philosopher René Descartes. “It was funny to me! I hadn’t read this kind of thing since high school, ”reports Xavier Bertrand. A “step aside” also for employees of large companies, such as the SNCF or ADP (Airports of Paris), who, at the rate of half a day per month, come to debate. “We always need to distance ourselves from the urgency of everyday life to refocus on the human,” says Marc Grassin, philosopher and co-founder of the Vaugirard Institute. The objective here: “Align the head, the heart and the legs”, he summarizes. Reflection, emotion and practice.
A whole trip
“Our problems are 90% managed by rules, laws, procedures; 10% remain which are ethical”, analyzes in turn Stéphanie Scouppe, director in charge of this question at ADP. For example: what is it to show kindness, hospitality or responsibility with colleagues? “Philosophy allows us to explore these questions, to which we cannot find direct answers,” she continues. Without these moments of reflection, we would drown in the operational. In yet another genre, agencies offer philosophical trips, such as a retreat in the middle of nature where you can reflect on ecology in the broad sense and human relations.
More generally, the philosophy encourages employees to step out of their area of expertise and better address current issues. “We are increasingly called upon on the question of diversity, quotes Flora Bernard as an example, on gender, equality between men and women, or even the fight against discrimination. These are fundamental subjects which raise the urgency of meditating.
* Author ofAbout management and a more general problem, PUF. ** Co-authors of decision making, Dunod.