Posted on Jan 7, 2022 at 7:00 amUpdated Jan 7, 2022, 12:14 PM
From 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week. This is the concept of “996” displayed by Chinese technology companies, praised in particular by Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba. “Being able to work to the rhythm of the 996 is a great pleasure, he wrote in 2021 on a blog. If you want to integrate Alibaba, you must be prepared to work 12 hours a day. Otherwise, why bother to join us? “
In the summer of 2021, this rate of 72 hours per week sparked protests from young Chinese executives on social networks. The #Tangping movement, literally “lie down” was born. In praise of laziness and fed up with the culture of intensive work, competition and overconsumption. A hashtag quickly censored by the Chinese authorities.
In Europe, if the 4-day week has the wind in its sails in the media and presenteeism is questioned, the idea that it would be necessary to “drool” in order to succeed persists. This is particularly true of the sectors and occupations towards which the “over-educated generation” is flocking.
Described by the authors Jean-Laurent Cassely and Monique Dagnaud, it brings together the 20% most graduates in London (with a master's degree or more) who direct the major cultural and economic orientations of the country. Take law, audit and consulting, finance, medicine, architecture, media or even fashion. It is not painless to “learn one's teeth”, sometimes to go too far, appearing as a prerequisite for earning one's place.
“The elite are under pressure that they did not know before. It was long believed that competition was the lot of the least qualified and the most precarious workers. The massification of higher education since the 1980s has changed the situation, also causing increased competition in these sectors ”, says Céline Marty, associate professor of philosophy.
For the author of “Work less to live better”, this heightened competitiveness pushes employees to become hard workers to protect themselves from the stigma of unemployment and the guilt that is linked to it, especially when it is suffered.
For the most elitist sectors, the demands and the workload are not new. Audit and advice are considered to be among the most selective and hierarchical. And yet KPMG, Deloitte, EY, Mckinsey, and BCG continue to have a place of choice in the Universum rankings of the companies preferred by students of the grandes écoles.
“Indecent hours, overload of work, weekends and holidays included, I know”, entry phase Raphaël, a 29-year-old chartered accountant. If he played the game at the beginning, he quickly became disillusioned. “Around me, especially among the youngest, there was this desire to always do more. What they are showing you is absurd, but fortunately, it is not an absolute truth. It is not because everyone is throwing themselves out the window that it should be done “, smiles the young man who launched a year and a half as a freelance.
Teacher-researcher Sébastien Stenger describes these firms as “golden cages” into which employees knowingly fit and redouble their self-sacrifice in the hope of climbing the ladder with attractive remuneration, or make this experience a career accelerator.
Employees are regularly rated and evaluated, with a performance-based culture, also called “up or out”: climb up the hierarchy or leave. “It was very true twenty years ago. At the time, the volume of recruitment was tighter and the professions more upscale, less democratized than today. We also understand that people sometimes need more time and support to evolve “, nuance Charlotte Gouiard, HR manager at Mazars, a consulting and audit firm.
On the other hand, the professional does not contradict the pressure inherent in this profession, nor the heavy workload, but she defends transparency in the operation. “The whole environment is readable, in particular on the seasonality of the renderings, with peaks of activity at certain times of the year. “
“We are present but absent”
Stanislas Gruau saw these overruns well… in market finance. Trader for nine years, he climbed the ranks successfully, until managing a team of 150 European traders in Geneva, Switzerland. “”, he confides. And to add: “A few seconds after giving birth to my wife, I was looking at the financial markets… It clicked. “
He resigned in 2018. And will not return. In the past, the young man has made two more attempts to leave. “I was told that I was good, that my progress was going to be super fast. Every time I quit I was told, ‘stay, we have something for you', through promotions and salary increases ”, he adds. In these professions, fixed salaries can range from 200,000 to 300,000 Pounds, up to 1 million.
The apparent meritocracy
It is not only money or prestige that drives these young people to push the limits. “The idea of suffering also makes it easier to relate to work and allows you to have a positive self-image. The more we suffer, the more we think we deserve “, analysis Ollivier Pourriol, associate of philosophy and essayist, author of “Facile – The art of succeeding without forcing”.
A posture that is often part of the software of good students. “The acceptance of these living conditions is the fruit of a long school acculturation. Hard workers have always felt like they worked a lot. The world of work is the continuity of what we asked of them during their studies ”, notes Céline Marty.
Interns in medicine, students in preparatory classes or in architecture schools whose culture is partly based on the famous “cart”, are the most telling illustrations.
In her work, the philosopher also recalls that executives, in general, define their identity more through their work than employees and workers, who identify themselves more through their family and friendships.
The more we suffer, the more we think we deserve
Ollivier Pourriol, associate of philosophy and essayist, author of “Facile – The art of succeeding without forcing”
These overworked executives defend a form of meritocracy. The rating criteria are objectified: number of hours invoiced, projects or turnover achieved … which sometimes lead to an overbid in a competitive context.
“Ultimately, it is constantly giving pledges to a group that we want to integrate at all costs, estimates Ollivier Pourriol. What matters is less the work we do than the signs we send: ‘Look at me, I work more or I work for free.' You thus create a debt towards your organization, which in order to repay it will offer you a hierarchical position. “
Reproduction of diagrams
Well, not always … “Even if the work is satisfactory, the reward does not always match the efforts, testifies Chloé, an auditor who went through a “Big Four”, now in an investment fund. Especially during the first years, which are difficult. Our abnegation is not necessarily correlated with the financial bonus and the recognition of the hierarchy. Sometimes we witness incredible injustices. “ For the young woman, now 33, it is management that makes all the difference in the development – or not – of employees.
It was also by becoming a manager that she began to flourish in her profession by refusing to practice management based on excessive control and prioritization. If Chloé is no exception, many managers reproduce the patterns they themselves have been confronted with, regardless of the sector. “They suffered, therefore the others must suffer”, she remarks.
Sometimes unconsciously. Stanislas, the trader who quickly rose to prominence in his organization, himself acted by mimicry, until he “Take a slap” during a peer review. “I was obsessed with financial indicators more than people. The system transformed me and it hurt me enormously “, he admits.
The case of “ethical” professions
In one long testimony on Twitter, Dr Thibaut Jacques, a young radiologist, weary of sacrifices, says he is worn out by the university hospital world. “No matter how much you always do, it will be considered ‘normal'. Just if we don't have to say thank you. The only recognition you will have will be after your heart attack at 45, in a global email to say that ‘it's sad, he was really a great person' “, he writes.
According to a Human Footprint report, 38% of employees are in “Psychological distress”, with a number of cases of “Severe burn-out” which jumped 25% compared to May 2021.
So why does this continue? Jobs linked to a strong ethic (Hippocratic oath, lawyers' oath, etc.) are the most conducive to experiencing this form of personal asceticism, explains Céline Marty. It is, in other words, the “meaning at work” handled like a carrot, which tends to make everyone accept everything else.
“Currently, the system holds, despite all the professional suffering it produces, because these workers accept this way of life for its economic, social and symbolic advantages and because the ideology which values work is not questioned. But it is not viable ”, indicates the philosopher. In a society affected by a pandemic, issues of mental health and work-life balance are on the rise.
In London, stoppages for psychological disorders or professional exhaustion have increased by 15 to 17% over one year according to Malakoff Humanis. And according to a Human Footprint report, 38% of employees are in “Psychological distress”, with a number of cases of “Severe burn-out” which jumped 25% compared to May 2021.
Critics are on the rise and speech is freed. Hospitals go on strike, like last December. In March 2021, junior bankers at Goldman Sachs, the Holy Grail for many financiers, revolted internally against working conditions, humiliation (blame, unfounded criticism) and hourly amplitude – around 100 hours per week. Shaken in recent decades by cases of suicides, investment banks are gradually evoking the concepts of work-life balance.
In the world of start-ups, discontent is also rising. The BalanceTaStartup Instagram account, which denounces toxic management through anonymous testimonies, is very successful with nearly 200,000 subscribers in one year. The concept exists in many other sectors: advertising with BalanceTonAgency, media with BalanceTaRédac, auditing and consulting with BalanceTonCabinet, etc.
In this context, conversions are attractive. Last year, one in five working people were in a professional retraining process, and nearly half of them planned to take the plunge, points out the latest barometer of training and employment from Center Inffo, an association under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor.
Some people hope to (re) find a form of freelance freelance, others make 360-degree turns or simply decide to practice their profession in another sector.
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