The gift is present everywhere in the work place (even if we do not see it)

In Nantes, France: discussion of a doctoral thesis at the University who has grasped the profound meaning of "gift" in the work place

Interview with Anouk Grevin

by Antonella Ferrucci

111207_Nantes_Anouk_06_ridAnouk Grevin has a PhD in Management from the Institute of Economics and Management at the University of Nantes. She defended her thesis on December 7th with the highest grade possible and the compliments of the jury (in addition to the invitation to compete for a major award). The EoC witnessed its debut role of a young Vice President of the International Bureau of Economics and Labour, which it naturally followed closely in its early years. The credit goes to an idea of Anouk (together with Michelè Stein and Markus Ressl): the constitution of anelectronic archive of theses on the EoC (hers as one of the first). Today the theses add up to 334.

Anouk, can you explain briefly what the object of your research was?

The theme of my PhD was "Business malaise in health care organizations." For this research I did a field study in two organizations. At one point, starting from the 2009 book of the French sociologist Norbert Alter "Donner et prendre. La cooperation en entreprise," I realized that the illness could be related to the “gift.” According to Alter each one brings something of himself at work. The cooperation itself is not a given and obliged; at work one continuously gives of himself. But the company does now know how to welcome this gift and does not know what to do with it, because the gift is linked with the other and instead the company tends on not having “debts.” This was interesting to me: If you give a gift and this gift is not received, a feeling of betrayal grows in you and this could explain the business malaiseAlter says, "Management does not know how to accept the gift."  As a student of Management, I told myself that I could not stop there; I had to understand "what management can do to accept the gift."

Were you able to find an answer to this question?

I tried. First I highlighted the gifts that are evident in everyday work, in co-operation, in overcoming difficulties111207_Nantes_Anouk_02_rid This gift is not the “more” you do in the overtime.  It is all the work you put in and above all, everything that has been difficult to do; that is the part of the gift. The company instead wants the perfect quality and tries to eliminate anything that is not reasonable which is why it does not want to hear about problems. That's why I focused on the role of management (the head of the office in health care organizations is the head nurse of a ward). The first thing is that "work should be looked at." If no one sees you have made the effort, if your boss does not even notice that you are doing miracles, you are unhappy. The office manager then has to be present, keeping an eye on the work, and making time to speak of the difficulties so that solutions can be found. There must be a close relationship between the boss and its employees. This part, which is very important, disappears in the companies because the boss is always busy doing reports for his superiors, and is no longer on the field.

Then I worked at a theoretical level on sociological theories of the gift. It is argued that if the gift is pure it is free and there is no need for recognition. This did not seem right to me because there is no reciprocity. If you take the theory of Mauss, very well known, it says that there is a "gift against gift" and you find yourself in a situation that is almost a market exchange. Thanks to this analysis we can say that the gift must be recognized (there is giving and receiving). In the end I arrived to what Luigino Bruni says about "unconditional reciprocity” and that is that the gift may be free but at the same time reciprocal because its aim is the relation: it is a new relational view of the gift, and was seen as very "powerful." There is need of reciprocity; there is need for recognition of the gift, even if it is free.

111207_Nantes_Anouk_03_ridIn the end, I studied the role of management. What are the areas of recognition of the person, of the work; why are meetings not a space of recognition? The vision has to change. I tried to do an analysis at all levels of the company: so that the boss may have the role of work recognition. This must be assessed and to do this the boss must be released from other duties to his superiors; this is essential. All the management must have, as a priority, its presence at all levels of managers who "looks" and evaluates the work. But the sense is not that of the classical theories of human resource management where "I pay you for results." It does not deal with incentives. To think that a person should be encouraged to achieve a goal does not mean that by himself the person would not do: and yet he does! He does it and it is you who does not see it. The workers work very hard, we just have to see them, and then the whole perspective of management and human resources changes. It all comes from the usual economic theory that sees man as selfish and utilitarian; therefore it is necessary to change the anthropology that is at the bottom of all of it.

At this point, how you tie all this to the EoC is pretty obvious. But what would you say?

I did not try to link this with the EoC. But it's interesting what my director said when he spoke at the EoC Research Conference in Nantes, "the EoC makes us understand that there is no need to bring the gift back in the company because it is already there, it is everywhere; it just needs to be seen.” It is us who think that it can only be found in organizations with ideal motives, instead it is everywhere and the normal business should see it. The EoC then goes beyond it because it puts gift as its goal.

What impact do you think this discussion had in your University?

It was a very special discussion, a little out of the ordinary. It was seen that behind this thesis there was a strong conviction on my part, 111207_Nantes_Anouk_05_rida commitment. In France, we never applaud during a discussion only at the end. And instead a round of applause started after each intervention. Then it is normal for a dozen people to assist this type of discussion, and instead 65 were present. The atmosphere was unique, the conversations were profound and I felt free and happy in expounding. It was a moment of light. A member of my jury that also came to the EoC Conference, spoke during the discussion of my thesis, encouraging me to go more in depth about the gift: "I am sure you can say a lot more about the gift, just for the EoC experience.” Another member spoke of love with all the words that usually one does hearin doctoral management discussions. It takes courage to express ones beliefs in a strong way and to say in the end that "we need to redo the whole theory, anthropology must change." I had the courage to do so thanks to the Ideal of the Charism of Chiara and the support of my research director who told me: "Let's go to the bottom of it, we have nothing to lose." This impressed me very much because it rarely happens.

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