Labour Studies Index

L’emploi durable, une relation de type don/contre-don : De la validation aux enseignements d’un paradigme

Document type Article
Author Pihel, Laetitia
Journal Relations Industrielles / Industrial Relations
Volume 63
Date 2008
ISSN 0034-379X, 1703-8138
Pages 502-528


Cet article s’intéresse à la question des relations d’emploi durables et se propose de démontrer la pertinence du paradigme du don/contre-don de Mauss (2003) pour lire et comprendre les réglages de ces relations et l’engagement des individus inscrits à l’intérieur. Il étudie, à partir d’une recherche de type ethnographique et inductive menée au sein de l’entreprise France Télécom, les moteurs et les ressorts de l’engagement durable des acteurs dans un contexte où les conditions initiales d’entrée dans la relation ont été modifiées par les restructurations de l’entreprise. En s’appuyant sur les résultats de l’enquête, il témoigne de la force explicative des thèses de Mauss et de leur intérêt pour la GRH, en montrant comment celles-ci complètent les approches managériales traditionnelles et redéfinissent les conditions d’efficacité des politiques d’accompagnement proposées par l’entreprise., There is much research into occupations, and a growing marked interest in what are called “new careers.” These new careers, which are defined in relation to traditional occupations, are typified by lower loyalty and less attachment to the employer on the part of the employee. There are various factors that account for this. From a sociological viewpoint, modern workers tend to need to give a sense to their professional life and so, depending on the moment and their desires, they change organization and accumulate diverse experiences over the course of their career. Economically, with the ubiquity of corporate restructuring and organizational change, employees aim to protect themselves from the risk of redundancy having come to the realization that jobs for life no longer exist. These changes correspond to a new, more contractual and more rational, psychological relationship between the individual and the organization. This means that in the new areas of exchange, loyalty and reciprocity are maintained through the synchronous realization of expectations. As a result, attachment to the organization and emotional investment are weaker than was the case in the past. While being both justified and pertinent, the above mentioned research engenders a particular viewpoint. Through a certain prioritization, this research has lead to an almost total neglect of research into single-employer careers and into long-term employment relationships which were historically the basis of an employee’s relation with the organization. Although single-employer careers have not disappeared, it must be admitted that nowadays they have taken on a new form. Internal reorganization and permanent changes have contributed to a redefinition of the conditions of long-term employment relationships. They also contribute to the modification of the rules of involvement and the transformation of the relationship between contribution and remuneration. This leads to the question of the longevity of the commitment of those who choose to stay with one organization. It is to this rarely investigated question that this article is addressed. This article analyses the sustainable employment relationship in order to understand the motives for the commitment of the actors engaged in such a relationship. The study is based on an ethnographic survey which was conducted over fifteen months within the firm France Telecom. Over the last fifteen years, this firm has undergone major restructurings which has had as a result that the firm’s employees work in a professional and social framework that is different from the one in place when they joined the company. The legal status, the meaning given to their work, the values as well as the job itself have all been redefined to match the new obligations of the organization. Classic management approaches consider that undergone changes in conditions induce hitches or even a rupture of the psychological contract. They also show that these hitches in the exchanges between employer and employee go along with negative consequences on the employees’ commitment, their loyalty, their social behaviour, and their performance (Delobbe et al., 2005). Studies on the psychological contract have mainly highlighted the fact that, under such circumstances, most employees resign. Our research seeks to understand what causes employees to maintain their involvement even when their employment conditions have been radically redefined. To do this, we start with the paradoxes seen in our study. At France Telecom, even when those involved have undergone professional reorientation, moving them away from their previous experiences, none of them wish to leave the company. The behaviour of the individuals and the performance of the company show a strong commitment to the company and to the work on the part of the employees. The inductive survey reveals that the reasons for a lasting/long-term commitment are grounded in and protected by the history of the relationship that links the employees to the firm (primary socialization, protection of traditional values, behaviour standards, social dependence) and also by a great number of mixed features that are specific to lasting/long-term employment relationships (strong identity roots, affection for the firm, etc.). The paradigm of gift/counter-gift (don/contre-don) and of the social phenomenon initiated by Marcel Mauss (1923–1924) is used here to analyze this type of relationship. This paradigm allows us to take into account the complexity of the relationship, the dynamics of the different features considered and, most importantly, the role of the lasting/long-term interaction between the employee and the particular context of the relationship. Moreover, it allows us to better understand the issues raised by reorganization for those involved. Using the results of the survey, the article confirms that Mauss’ gift/counter-gift paradigm is relevant to the analysis and understanding of lasting/long-term employment relationships. It also proves that Mauss’ theories are particularly illuminating and of a great interest for human resource management, showing that they complement the traditional management approaches as they define new conditions for the support programmes implemented by the firm in order to be efficient. In this article, we put forward the concept of a “chain giving.” This concept emphasizes the overall and historic dimensions of the relation with the enterprise. It encourages the measurement of all the implications involved in long-term employment relationships (professional, personal and social implications) and their incorporation into managerial decision making. This concept can bring us a clearer reading of the expectations of the individual, comprehension of the paradoxes observed at the workface and a deepening of our understanding of reactions to changes put in place by organizations., Este artículo se interesa a la cuestión de las relaciones de empleo durables y se propone demostrar la pertinencia del paradigma del don/ contra – don de Mauss (2003) para leer y comprender los reglajes de esas relaciones y la implicación de los individuos inscritos al interior. A partir de una investigación de tipo etnográfica e inductiva llevada a cabo en la empresa France Telecom, se estudia los motores y los resortes de la implicación durable de los actores en un contexto donde las condiciones iniciales de entrada en la relación han sido modificadas por las restructuraciones de la empresa. Apoyándose en los resultados de la encuesta, el estudio testimonia de la fuerza explicativa de las tesis de Mauss y de su interés para la GRH, mostrando cómo ellas se completan los enfoques de gestión tradicionales y redefinen las condiciones de eficacidad de las políticas de acompañamiento propuestas por la empresa.