Denis Maillard

Denis Maillard

Political philosopher and journalist

9 October 2023

Both a political philosopher and journalist by training, he embodies the union between the world of thought and that of business. After studying political philosophy, he held various communications positions, from editor to director of communication, including at Unédic, Médecins du Monde and Technologia.

At the same time, he created the Humanitarian Review and wrote several essays, including "Une colère française", "Tenir la promesse faite au tiers-État," and "Indispensable but invisible: recognize workers on the front line."

In 2017, he co-founded Temps commun, a consulting firm specializing in social transformations, advising leaders and leading collective intelligence devices, such as the GASS (social and societal analysis group).

His areas of expertise include social issues, changes in the world of work, and the reconfiguration of social and union relations.

Before you begin, how would you define your own relationship to work?

I would say it took me a long time to work as I had hoped… I founded a consulting firm with a partner six years ago and since then I have found the right combination of autonomy, freedom of organization, time and meaning in what I do. Finally between the criteria that seem to be the ones that are evoked when thinking about questions of work and professional development.

You posed the concept of social disobedience, what do you mean by that?

Social disobedience is a phenomenon that emerges in the world of work.

Employees are coming together outside the unions to make their voices heard and solve the problems they face. It is a concept that has been forged in reference to civil disobedience Civil disobedience is a form of non-violent resistance* because we realized that this same type of phenomenon existed in the corporate world and this is what we called social disobedience.

Very concretely, how does this materialize?

Imagine that I am an employee, I face a problem that I have trouble solving and my natural interlocutors, my manager or union representatives, are ineffective. There’s a time when I’m gonna have to take care of myself. In Albert Hirschman’s American sociology, there are three solutions: Exit, Voice or Loyalty. Exit, so I resign. Voice, I give voice so I protest and Loyalty is negotiation, compromise.

Historically, «voice» is the union strike. But here we see another type of «voice» that consists in taking charge of oneself. What I see in companies is that when the managerial relays (union or hierarchical) do not work, then employees turn to people who share the same situation as them and it gives groups of auto-workersThe European Union’s Employment and Social Affairs Committee, which is responsible for the creation of a European Employment Service. This is what we saw at the end of 2022 during the strike of SNCF controllers for example.

As a manager or manager, how to react to these new wage structures?

By reviewing our practices.
By asking how we allow this word to express itself and how we put the unions in a position to be the receptacle of this word on work.
By opening discussions on work to help bring out the problems and bring a professional dialogue in a social dialogue that is institutionalized.

For example, we have the citizen conventions that have been put in place on major societal issues and that can be transposed into companies. We are in this moment where the expression of employees on their own work comes very strongly and the question is, how do we recover this to create a renewed social dialogue?

As a labour specialist, what is the most important thing you have learned about work that you would like to share?

I would answer with an expression by André Breton that says «l'oeil existe à l'état sauvage».

On the job, I learned to cultivate the wild eye, that is, to be attentive to details, to small things that often go unnoticed, that seem obvious, what some call weak signals. I would say that we have to pay attention to these little signs that things are changing. It is not intuition, it is a way of looking at others and the world and I would say to the leaders, who are sometimes the head in the operational, to cultivate this wild eye. This is your leadership role.


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