The French Labor Revolution

Transforming managerial and social models for tomorrow's workforce

By Hanna Moukanas, Bruno de Saint Florent, and Guillaume Thibault
This article first appeared in Les Echos on July 2.

As the labor market continues to polarize, companies must step up within the next five to ten years to identify and train people whose jobs are threatened.

There were many twists and turns in the most recent French elections, but a remarkable fact was undoubtedly the alignment of the populist parties around the subject of labor and rising inequalities in business. Company executives have a heavy responsibility to bear. While preparing for uncertain economic growth and worldwide political instability, they must adapt their business model to the frantic pace of technological, economic and environmental disruptions.

As a result of the transition to a service economy, digitalization and globalization, the labor market will continue to polarize as we head toward 2025. Two dividing lines will become increasingly accentuated. The first line sets apart “protected” markets (local services, public services), where productivity and pay are relatively low, from open markets to global competition, with continuous productivity gains and high wages. The second line is drawn by automation, with the progressive decline of tasks that can be digitized (analyses, referrals) or robotized (assembly line work, transportation).

Salaried employment could thus become structured along two major archetypes: low-paid, hard-to-automate local jobs, or well-paid, highly-qualified global jobs. Between the two, a soft underbelly of intermediate employment, threatened in the medium to long term, though these jobs currently represent the overwhelming majority of salaried employment.

Training people for tomorrow’s professions

If nothing is done to organize the professional transition of workers, persistent mass unemployment is an absolutely credible scenario. Companies are best served by managing this transition sooner by training people in new professions rather than pay the piper later when their jobs have vanished.

Business leaders must make an honest and objective assessment of how many employees will be out of a paid job within the next five to ten years. Some are already tackling this challenge head-on. Société Générale, for example, is investing in experimental programs to help people acquire the skills likely to be prized in the digital world of tomorrow. SNCF’s development branch, dedicated to industrial change in the provinces to stimulate entrepreneurship/intrapreneurship and open innovation, has already managed to create entirely new professions with Altametris, the group’s drone subsidiary.


Digitalization is also profoundly transforming organizational operating practices. It’s making businesses more collaborative, more open and less hierarchical. It’s challenging traditional middle management layers and erasing the borders between salaried and independent work, professional and private life.

It’s also giving rise to new aspirations among 20- to 35-year-olds, who want to adhere to their company’s “reason for being,” search for personal development, and evolve in flat, open, agile organizations. These represent big challenges for labor regulation reform and traditional businesses.

These changes should stimulate leaders to join forces with public authorities who clearly won’t be able to face this ongoing revolution alone. The new government seems on the right track by proposing to accelerate labor-related measures. For their part, companies must prepare today to transform their managerial and social model, because tomorrow, their capacity to support the labor revolution will be a key dimension of differentiation and positioning to conquer new markets.