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The post-Covid workplace: building a resilient HR practice in France

Written by
Capstan Avocats, the law firm setting the benchmark for labour law in France.
The COVID-19 crisis has shifted employees’ thinking on the meaning and value of work. Employers need to adapt, including by addressing the heightened concern for ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) issues in their HR policies.

The challenge of meaning at work

The crisis has strengthened societal aspirations for many employees. The search for meaning has become a determining factor for many in forging and shaping a career. Many people are now asking themselves: what is the positive impact of my job on society? What is new is that this no longer concerns only the young people of generation Z. The crisis has acted as an eye-opener for many. Now, a job that lacks meaning can be a reason to leave an organisation.

If we look at the phenomenon of the ‘great resignation’, in the US, it is estimated that almost 40 million people resigned by 2021, almost half of whom did so when they had no other job. Employees therefore want to be able to:

  • find meaning in their work;
  • understand the purpose of their job;
  • understand and measure the positive impact of their job on society.


In addition, employees are increasingly concerned about whether the organisation’s values are compatible with their own. Organisations that are not able to manage this shift risk suffering the impact of large numbers of departures, but also of not being sufficiently attractive to attract new talent. This question of the meaning of work must clearly be addressed in the company’s HR policy.

Adopting ESG criteria

The adoption of ESG criteria can concretely contribute to this approach. ESG criteria make it possible to assess the extent to which sustainable development and long-term issues are taken into account in an organisation’s strategy. These are extra-financial criteria that are far from the usual financial standards. Employees are increasingly taking these indicators into account when choosing the organisations in which they plan to work or continue working.

From an HR point of view, the adoption of ESG criteria allows employees to have a concrete view about the objectives within which their own job function operates. Each employee can thus concretely assess whether the organisation’s strategy is in line with their own values. These ESG criteria can then be applied to the entire HR policy (remuneration, evaluation, training, etc.).

The employee also then becomes a player in the organisation’s ESG strategy and contributes to the positive impact, which is individually rewarding and meaningful.

New corporate structures: positive impact companies

In recent years, new corporate forms have developed that incorporate ESG objectives into their articles of association and governance format. The company is no longer governed solely in the interests of its shareholders, but according to general interest objectives, which are defined and whose achievement is audited and measured.

Some examples:

  • In the US, there are benefit corporations or B-corps.
  • In Italy, a law dated 28 December 2015 created, in the same spirit, the Societa benefit.
  • In France, the 2019 ‘Pacte’ law created the status of mission-based companies (see here, in French and here for a briefer account in English).


A global momentum behind these models has therefore been engendered, and it will continue.

In this respect, we note the European Parliament adopted a resolution on 17 December 2020 on sustainable corporate governance. It states that ‘when it comes to business, a sustainability approach implies that companies take due account of societal and environmental concerns’. The EU Parliament has called on the Commission to come forward quickly with new texts affirming stronger obligations for companies on these issues.

What oversight is there?

NGOs regularly campaign against organisations whose practices appear to violate ESG commitments (‘name and shame’).

But employee representatives are also increasingly involved. Actions are now being taken by trade unions against companies. For example, over the past few years, actions have been taken in relation to violations of the OECD guidelines for multinational companies and responsible business conduct. Employee representatives are called upon to play an increasingly important ‘watchdog’ role in monitoring action on ESG.

The French example in the fight against global warming speaks for itself. Under the law of August 2021, organisations are required to provide the social and economic committee (CSE) with information on the environmental consequences of their activity, making it possible to monitor both the policy and actual actions of the company on a regular basis and to keep employees informed (for more details, see here).

For more information about worker representation

Arnaud Teissier
Partner - France
Capstan Avocats