For Victoria, everything happened when she returned from vacation. “I started crying at work, in front of my computer, I told myself it wasn’t possible anymore,” says her former head of legal, 43. The feeling of “no longer able” is so strong that she turns to occupational health professionals for help. Then a seven-month shutdown began, ending in March 2022, when her company deemed her unfit and fired her. According to a survey by Empreinte Humaine and Opinion Way conducted among French employees in 2001 between January 27 and February 11, 2022, a third of managers, like Victoria, experience psychological stress.
Behind this suffering at work, managers are forced to turn into “computer hackers”, overworked and alone in the face of the plight of their employees. Especially in a health crisis. According to the Cegos 2020 Barometer, four out of ten managers actually find their jobs more challenging than before, ingenuity in dealing with the technical dangers of remote work, difficulty accessing support services, and the challenges of maintaining cohesion and securing a team.”
Returning to the workplace in an alarming context also put pressure on managers and leaders. “To support the rapid recovery and the need for productivity, managers are overinvesting in solving the problems associated with the growth of the company,” explains Marie-Lisse Morgaud, general manager of strategy firm Nexmove. “The schedules are very revealing,” testifies Jérôme Chemin, deputy general secretary of CFDT Executives: “You have to manage those who work remotely, those who have moved, those who are good in their role and do not want to develop.” . It’s what the trade unionist calls “tailor-made” as turnover “exhausting for managers” becomes more and more important in business.
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“double agent syndrome”
Thus, more and more tasks have to be solved, but with the same means as before, sometimes already insufficient. Managers feel that they no longer have enough control and freedom of action. “It was just like that, and not otherwise,” recalls 55-year-old Guy*, who experienced an emotional burnout in January last year. “I took it upon myself, but after a while I couldn’t sleep. On Sunday I had a lump in my stomach because Monday was approaching,” he says, still marked. The reorganization of the company, in which he had worked for thirty years, twenty of which as an assistant and head of the branch and sector, also made him lose his bearings: a new team, new goals and “methods imposed by management.” For example, a daily report on the sales results of each consultant. “My job was to follow them to give more,” he elaborates, describing the increased administrative burden that many managers regret: “That was not my job. I no longer found interest. I was stuck between management and my team who didn’t want to adapt.”
“We’re asking the manager to solve impossible equations,” illustrates Adrien Fender, a mental health manager at specialist consulting firm Stimulus. Local managers in particular are particularly vulnerable. At the first level of responsibility, “they serve as a shock absorber, passing through the sum of all hierarchical levels in addition to the requirements of employees,” analyzes Adrian Fender. Helpless and at a stalemate, many of them engage in ambiguous conversations to appease both parties. A reaction that a mental health expert calls “double agent syndrome.”
Managing the affairs of the company without the appropriate financial, human and material resources, the leader risks his mental health. “A person doesn’t want to just do what they can,” says Christophe Nguyen, a working psychologist at the Empreinte Humaine office: “Many psychosocial risks arise from not being able to do their job the way they would like to.” This lack of recognition can hurt self-esteem, cause frustration, feelings of failure, and ultimately a desire to shirk responsibility. After a burnout and an eight-month sick leave, like “a lot [ses] colleagues”, Guy is now taking on a new mission at the same company, this time without a managerial function. He does not exclude that someday he will return there, but rather in a commercial environment.
If many managers don’t feel like they belong, it’s also because this feature is often seen as an incentive to recognize an employee’s work. “This is a trap that I have fallen into. When it was offered to me, I dived because of the need for recognition, a show of strength, a company car, status, fame … ”, lists Bernard Marie Chiquet, a former manager, now a coach specializing in the evolution of management methods: “Everyone thinks what you know, but you know no more than others. You were just stupid enough to take that position,” he says. And for good reason, “someone can be a very good technician and a bad manager,” says union member Jérôme Chemin. Especially when he was assigned hastily or received little or no training: “I dare to hope that we will understand that this is a real job,” he adds. In addition to training and greater transparency in access methods, in order to give young people the opportunity to express themselves, unions require clear boundaries and role redefinitions.
“I ran from useless meetings to useless meetings”
Because the mandates, the oversight missions, and the function’s role itself are currently considered too ill-defined. Thus, team management is added to the core work at the expense of quality management, according to Eric Perez, general secretary of FO Executives: “If you spend 70% of your time on things that are not your responsibility, your function becomes fuzzy.” Bernard Marie Chiquet, who stepped down from his leadership position in 2007 after twenty years of working in large groups, agrees: “It’s extremely inconvenient because you never know what is expected of you explicitly. It’s a black box,” he says. He decided to create the Institute for Research and Management Consulting iGi in order to realize his vision of management: employees become their own managers, with the distribution “each in his own scale, in a more or less large role depending on the predisposition.” 60% of French managers are waiting for their role and mission to be clarified, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and IPSOS. All in order to be in time and get rid of discomfort, as Bernard Marie Chiquet wanted to do: “When I saw myself running like a hamster from useless meetings to useless meetings, I felt underused.”
Sometimes the loss of meaning within the company explains the confusion of some managers. “I didn’t agree with what the management wanted, and I didn’t know how to attract people,” Victoria recalls. “How to revive an orchestra when you find the score rotten?” asks Jérôme Chemin, who carries the idea of a conscience clause for CFDT cadres. Thus, the manager will have the opportunity to resign in case of too serious a disagreement. But most of the time it’s hard to express. He profits and is silent so as not to show signs of weakness. “People in pain can become authoritarian, but warns Eric Perez. There is a risk to their employees and their environment because of the mistreatment they may use without even knowing it. This is terrible for these managers who will look into face and say, “But what have I done?”
“Often what, in turn, undermines the desire to be a manager is the painful experience of enduring an authoritarian style,” adds Henri Saval, president of the International Institute for Management and Change Management Research (ISEOR): “This is a phenomenon that manifests itself in suffering or misgivings about accepting this role, or even explicitly refusing to be promoted to such a position.”
New management model
Some, however, see it as a way to reinvent this status to make it “human” for all sections of the company. “The function has never been the same for generations. This is another change that is not the last,” defends Benoît Durand-Thysne, president of France Transition, a federation of “transition management”. In this model, managers carry out missions in different companies, reinforcing them as needed. “These are people who love what they do but don’t want to do it for one boss who will put too much pressure on them,” explains Adrien Jocter Monrosier, deputy director of transition management firm Inside Management.
Proof that leadership is already in the process of reinventing itself. And that the break with the model that is considered the “castration” of companies is highlighted, as psychologist Christophe Nguyen points out: “I’m not sure that many companies are aware of the state of mistrust. managers. This is a priority if we want them to lead others.”
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