Cécile Ferlandin has spent her entire career at Bleu Libellule. She is the initiator of an avant-garde occupational health policy, based on in-depth work conducted with researchers and teachers. Today, she manages this strategy for the group's 1,200 employees, without compromising the company's performance objectives.
On the program:
Linking trust and performance
"We don't talk about a liberated company but about empowerment"
"Taking responsibility as an employer"
"I think we have a lot to gain from a greater acceptance of diversity."
Cécile Ferlandin: I joined Bleu Libellule (where I still work today) while doing a BTS in alternation. I have been working with the current presidents, Caroline and Jean-Philippe Wincker, for over 15 years. Obviously, they have greatly influenced my vision of management and corporate life.
Also, during my career, I went back to school at the University of Aix-en-Provence, where I completed a Master's degree in HR and talent management. There I met a teacher-researcher who had a big impact on my vision of corporate health. It was one of the themes of my thesis.
C.F : I would say that I initiated this reflection starting in 2015 and really integrated it in 2019 when I started working with Thibault Perrin, who is currently a researcher at the University of Nîmes, to build a training course as part of obtaining the Great Place to Work label.
At the time, he was doing a thesis on trust in companies and its impact on company profitability while working as an intern at Great Place to Work. It was an important step in my career that changed my vision of management and well-being at work.
Starting in 2018, I worked on a more managerial part. Then, in 2020, with the arrival of COVID-19, we all became aware of the importance of physical and mental health at work. I have been working on this topic ever since.
C.F: When I started working on mental health, I realized that occupational medicine was generally very absent. When one of our employees was in psychological difficulty, the first reflex was to send him or her to occupational medicine. But we never got enough help.
I therefore realized that it was necessary to provide real support in terms of health, including a strong, digitalized mutual insurance company available to our employees. This is where my action on occupational health began, because it was the only tool at my disposal.
I then worked with management researchers. I realized that the well-being of employees depended a lot on management. To apply these lessons, I started in 2017 to get more involved in the overall management of the company and I made the HR function much more present in the daily life of employees. For example, I introduced new managerial rituals and performance interviews.
Then, at the end of 2018, we decided with the presidency to change our managerial model and move to a liberated company model. From that moment on, the well-being of employees became one of the missions of management. At Bleu Libellule, we have dedicated a part of our HR department to health and safety issues.
This was a new mission for HR because, unlike today, wellness was not even a topic. HR work was limited to internal communication, employer branding, payroll and administration. Since then, well-being has become a subject in its own right and I am very happy with this evolution!
C.F: There are so many forms of liberated companies that it is important to go back over them. In fact, at Bleu Libellule, we don't talk about a liberated company but about empowerment.
For example, we have eliminated our organizational chart and operate by division. Employees organize their projects independently, according to their skills and deadlines. They follow their own schedule, do not need to have their paid vacations validated, and set the terms of payment of their salary when they wish.
On this last point, we use the Rosaly application which allows employees to access their salary whenever they want. Instead of being paid at the end of the month, they can choose via Rosaly to be paid every 10 days, 2 days, or even every day if they wish.
C.F: We are currently testing a system of chosen working hours. At the beginning of the semester, employees choose their weekly working hours, between 28 and 39 hours.
For example, if a person wants to take Wednesdays off for a certain period of time, they can reduce their working hours. Then, if they want to be paid more, they can go to 39 hours. The compensation is based on this.
C.F: Since we do not replace employees who reduce their working hours, we encourage them to exchange with each other and use common sense to find the right balance.
At the moment, employees plan their weekly working hours over 6 months, but I would like to move to week-by-week planning. We are seeing very concrete results with this system. As soon as employees can adapt their working hours, they become much more efficient.
Our entire organization is based on the trust we place in our employees. By being more responsible, they know that we expect results from them, because our bonus plan is based on sales.
C.F: When I started as the company's HR director in 2013, there were a lot of projects to work on. In particular, we had just integrated a fund and we were going from 5 store openings per year to 20.
So one of my priorities was recruitment and employer branding. I looked for an HR barometer that would allow me to take stock of our situation, while contributing to our employer brand. Great Place to Work was the best known indicator at the time. It was an opportunity for me to attract the best talent by highlighting our good working conditions.
We conducted our first survey in 2013. We received 66% satisfaction, whereas we needed a minimum rate of 69% to be labeled. This allowed me to identify our areas of improvement and to evaluate the work required.
I then launched a major program that lasted 5 years, which allowed us to obtain the label in 2019. The company was also ranked among the top 30 companies in France where it is good to work. Since then, we have renewed our labeling in 2020 by ranking 16th.
At the same time, we worked with Great Place to Work on training sessions to make our management even more empowering. During these sessions, the organization brought us its best practices, while I brought my own field experience. Thibault Perrin helped us a lot by sharing the teachings of his thesis on trust in companies. It was a very complementary team effort that still allows us to offer this training to all our employees.
C.F: The first pillar is of course trust. We start by defining what mutual trust is, what personal trust is, what self-confidence is... Then we give our employees the keys to develop it in their daily work.
The second pillar concerns the right to make mistakes. We have invited Séverine Loureiro, author of a book on this subject, to speak. We see how mistakes can be beneficial and how they can create a learning company.
Finally, for the last pillar, we address the issue of meaning and the need to give meaning to employees so that they feel empowered.
C.F: I have noticed a very significant increase in absenteeism. Indeed, after the COVID-19 crisis, we saw that some employees had difficulty returning to work. Certain habits had been lost, such as working on Sundays, working long hours, standing up and sometimes having to deal with difficult customers.
The return to work was difficult for some employees and we were confronted with a lot of sick leave and even departures. It was very difficult for them to return to work as before.
We therefore set up a real health and safety department within our HR department. The objective was to provide concrete answers to employees and to go beyond the traditional scope of occupational medicine, which was then completely absent.
Overall, the whole subject of occupational health had been lost over the years. It used to be very important, but I have to admit that I never received any training on the subject as an HR professional! And, even today, it is still not fully integrated into the curricula of HR students.
C.F: Since the post-COVID recovery, I have been doing this work on a daily basis.
For example, when an employee is off sick for more than 5 days, we organize a health committee to review the situation. Is it necessary to discuss the situation with the employee? Should he or she be referred to a health specialist upon return or to an online consultation? Should a meeting be organized with the manager? We accompany the employee throughout the duration of his or her sick leave.
On the other hand, for stoppages of less than 5 days, we monitor more. We track down anything that is not justified because, even if we are benevolent, we must always keep the notion of efficiency in the company. This is often forgotten when we talk about well-being at work.
Also, an example in terms of coverage seems important to me to highlight here. Our mutual insurance company covers 4 alternative medicine sessions per person in the family of an employee, up to 50 euros per session (so 200 euros). We have decided to double this coverage by insuring an additional 200 euros per person. For example, an employee who wishes to consult a psychologist 8 times a year does not have to pay anything, because we cover the 4 sessions not covered by the mutual insurance company. All they have to do is send us the invoice.
It was important to me to give employees freedom of choice in terms of health and to assume our responsibility as an employer. If an employee has needs, I believe that it is partly due to the company. It is therefore normal for me to cover these costs.
C.F: We have formalized our values in an internal charter. It includes our efficiency objectives which, for me, are very much linked to our voluntary policy in terms of health.
In my opinion, well-being is a measure of efficiency. If people feel good, properly compensated, confident and healthy, they make numbers. All health measures are put in place to allow for more efficiency and less absenteeism.
We remain a retail company with all the rigor that implies. We can't afford to ignore our results objectives.
C.F: We compared our numbers before and after we implemented our accountability training in 2019. We compared it a year apart at the same time. We saw a 6% increase in revenue, which proves the huge impact that trust in business can have on its results.
Last year, we conducted another study to find out the satisfaction of our employees by region. We compared this data with the turnover per region. The results were clear: the regions where employees are the most satisfied are those where sales are the highest. On the contrary, where there is no employee satisfaction, the turnover is much lower.
So, even though it is becoming commonplace, it needs to be said again and again: wellness generates a return on investment!
C.F: I make mistakes every day! Launching projects and being a force of proposal also means accepting to make mistakes. In return, I learn a lot.
One prominent mistake comes to mind. In 2015, things I said via message that were not meant to be read came out. This happened to me with a former network manager at the company. One of the things I was talking to her about privately was the professional ability of employees.
Cases of harassment caused by this person were brought to our attention and we fired her. At the industrial tribunal, she published our exchanges which may have hurt some of the people concerned.
Since then, I have always kept in mind that things said at a private level can potentially be made public one day. This is especially important to keep in mind for topics that involve people's health and skills. Indeed, I have come to understand that disrespect for others begins the moment I write privately, "this employee can't do it".
So, beyond public gestures and words, one must always be kind in one's thinking. Sometimes I could be too judgmental and not tolerant enough. I think I've grown in the last few years because of those kinds of mistakes.
C.F: I would like to bring an optimistic vision of the future. After COVID-19, we have seen that every difficulty can become an opportunity. Our sector is not lacking in difficulties: the recovery is hard and managing people is complicated. However, I believe that we have much to gain from a greater acceptance of diversity.
I am thinking in particular of intergenerational diversity and the integration of disabled workers, who have much to contribute.
This acceptance of diversity also means accepting the differences of our current employees. Since COVID-19, we have been able to see our employees in a different light and we now consider the employee as a whole. We accept the fact that they are parents, sometimes sick, tired...
I am convinced that this new vision of employees will make the working world better. And it has to be, because we will have to work longer and longer. It is therefore in our best interest to feel good about our work and to integrate the notion of well-being!