DS0301 - Travail : organisation, relation, formation, santé, ...

Work and fragilisations : visibility, invisibility abd regulations within large french companies – FRAGITRAV

Weakening processes at work: taking into account conditionally the links between occupational pathways and health

How can prevent the emergence of health problems and keep employees encountering difficulties at work, in good occupational conditions? The theme is not new. But it is emphasized by the current context of population aging and the acceleration of organizational changes. Beyond the visible dimensions of the problem the project highlights also invisible difficulties, handled at a more infra level. The latter appear in real working situations and are on the fringes of institutional health systems.

From individual fragilities to processes of weakening «due to«, « regarding« and «inside« work

This project puts forward a conditional and evolving approach of heath-work relationship. It means to enlighten, not individual fragilities, but weakening processes, along three avenues: a- weakening “due to” work – the matter is to examine, according to this conditional perspective, the effects of work on health, including positive effects, and to pay attention in particular to persons in difficulty, these ones being considered as “revealers” of health/work relations ; b- weakening “regarding” work – the goal is to spot work characteristics which originate selective processes linked to health disorders, or even to discomfort at work ; c- weakening “inside” work - we aim there at understanding how workers feeling difficulties, their managers, and concerned professionals, face working conditions issues, and what are the individual and collective strategies they build for that. Thus the project carries three ambitions: 1) provide landmarks to think about weakening processes, their emergence and inflexions, in diachronic and collective terms ; 2) participate in improving plans of action, by analyzing available data inside companies (or elaborating new data set) and identifying the benefits of “invisible” regulations for the health of employees and the economic performance of companies ; 3) create spaces for exchange and co-elaboration of new practices among companies facing similar transformations and problems.

The technical and methodological device is based on collaboration with five companies in the industry, services and transportation sectors. It follows a twofold approach: (1) Some field studies were conducted in collaboration with health actors in the five companies in response to local concerns and (2) a participatory study, based on the organization of cooperative workshops, brought together actors from different companies. At each level, quantitative analyzes (based on the data of the companies themselves) and qualitative analyzes (from field surveys) were mobilized. The aim was not only to produce knowledge on «weakening processes« but also to support sustainable prevention policies. Our diachronic and conditional orientation implied to examine regulation strategies at several levels: individual, collective and organizational, paying special attention to work teams and foremen. In each company involved, the general problematic has been adapted to local stakes.

Three major project outcomes • The criteria for the evolution of career paths make health dimensions invisible. Career paths are impacted by health criteria, only if the latter are institutionalized and then considered as organizational obstacles. • The activity of middle management is central to the construction of health. Under conditions, it pursues long-term goals and is settled in the professional life of the supervisors themselves («profane« model of health) • A typology of use of health indicators was established according to four functions: alert, refinement, moderation, vigilance.

Since « weakening » has been put forward, from the very beginning of the project, as a polysemous notion including various representations about health at work, which coexist inside companies, several scientific and operational shifts have been carried out: • Weakening is not a state – linked to individual characteristics and to a category of fragile employees – but a process where numerous temporalities are intermingled, more or less getting on together, and brought to coherence by each employee’s activity. The cost of this effort to build coherence, and the possibilities of development thus provided, deserve to be well understood; • Studying the weakening processes, their way of building, leads to question the conditions for a healthy and skillful lifecourse. • Defending inside companies a pluralist view of health issues, tends to decompartmentalize areas of influence of various actors in charge of production, HR and health at work. It opens up new modalities of transformations of work, which the project points out. • A conditional, evolving and situated approach of “weakening” provides food for thinking about a non-determinist view of life course, advocated for in sociology, and opens perspectives for new developments of constructive. • These shifts may contribute to public debate about lifelong skill development, flexibilization of career path and ways to take into account arduousness of work.

This project has financially and scientifically supported a PHD in ergonomics (viva voce foreseen by the end of 2018). It has contributed to the organization of two symposia at the international Congress of the francophone ergonomics society (Self), in 2015 and 2017, and to the organization of a colloquium in 2016 in Paris. It has given cause to six papers in international congresses of several disciplines (ergonomics, work sociology, Organizational Design And Management).

In France, more than a million employees are concerned every year by occupational physicians’ notices including ability reservations or adapted workstations, and several thousands are directed to disability systems. The social and demographic context reinforces the importance of maintaining people in employment at any age of professional life course, whereas companies face a tight economical environment through permanent adjustments of their means of production. These frequent organizational and technical changes jeopardise long term management of health deficiencies, and often lead to work intensification processes, particularly harmful to employees who encounter these deficiencies. We shall name “fragilisation” the whole set of such difficulties, depending on work context, be they or not taken into account by dedicated systems.
Our project arises from a double range of concerns: scientific and practical. It gets anchored in practical concerns since it leans on collaboration with five large companies, belonging to industry, services and transport sectors, and concerned about the issue of taking better into account employees’ characteristics within changes policies, and limiting health disorders. Members of the “CREAPT” scientific group, altogether with the scientific partners of this project, these companies intend to play an active part in carrying out and orienting this research and examining its results.
On the scientific point of view, the start point of the research is the wide use of terms like “deficiency”, “disability”, “employability”, “restriction”, which seem to suggest a visibility or an identification of employees’ difficulties, and refer to health practitioners and HR managers’ concerns. This project aims at proposing a more complex approach. We intend to study the processes of visibility/invisibility of these difficulties, and spot the whole set of actors, more or less “visible”, dealing with employees’ fragilisation – namely middle management, who has to take care daily of these employees while maintaining at the same time production goals and quality of products or services. Furthermore our research integrates the idea that employees themselves do not remain passive in these fragilisation processes: they elaborate and implement, through their work activity, individually and in their work teams, strategies which tend to regulate the difficulties. In this view, analyzing work/health relationships cannot just consider work as a degradation factor: it is also a resource for health. This way of thinking opens new avenues for preventive action, while dedicated systems concentrate on managing problems when these have actually occurred.
Fragilisation will be analyzed in its links with work, along three perspectives: fragilisation “by”, “with regard to” and “within” work. These analyzes will be carried out at several levels of regulation: management and statutory level, team activity, and individual professional path. We intend to associate the analyze of social regulations on one side, individual and collective regulations in work activity on the other side, with a multidisciplinary approach combining ergonomics, sociology and demography, and calling on both quantitative and qualitative tools. Considering fragilisation as a process implies also to develop both diachronic and synchronic approaches. Work activity analyze, focused on “here and now” issues, will be enriched through analyzes of career, while regulation processes will be considered in a historical perspective.

Project coordination

Corinne Gaudart (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire pour la sociologie économique)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


LATI Laboratoire Adaptations Travail Individu EA 4469
CEE Centre d'Etudes de l'Emploi
LISE Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire pour la sociologie économique
Paragraphe Laboratoire Paragraphe, équipe C3U

Help of the ANR 152,014 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2014 - 24 Months

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