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  • Sébastien Cochard

Mental load of the manager: structuring to limit the risks!

Business leaders are faced with an increasing number of challenges and, as a result, an increasingly heavy mental burden. In order to maintain and develop their business in the medium term, they have no other option than to accept to let go of some of their constraints and, to do so, to adjust their operational organisation and rely on partners.

Due to the nature of their profession, managers of start-ups, SMEs, and ETIs are always highly exposed to the risk of burnout. The series of crises over the last three years, the changes in economic conditions with inflation and shortages, and the persistence of uncertainties and threats create an anxiety-inducing situation that is particularly conducive to the moral and physical collapse of managers.

Several recent statements attest to a growing concern on the subject. In October 2022, the CAPEB of the Rhône (confederation of the building trade) launched an alert on the mental health of company managers in the sector faced with the challenge of honouring signed estimates. The same concern was expressed by web start-ups: in June 2022, one of the Web2Day conferences was devoted to the subject, with testimonies from start-ups such as Alexandre Dana (LiveMentor), Nicolas Bergerault (L'Atelier des chefs) and Alice Vivian (Momoj).

And among the figures that circulate: 2/3 of business leaders are stressed, more than 40% are anxious, and 1 in 2 suffer from sleep disorders. And above all, 1 to 2 business leaders commit suicide every day (according to the Observatory of Managers' Health).

In the field, we observe that the managers most exposed to this type of risk are primarily those who delegate little and continue to want to manage everything themselves, trying to be everywhere and to have solutions to all the problems. In addition to this, some are under pressure from their family, whether explicit or implicit, as the company is often intrinsically linked to the family estate.

Anticipate by acting on the operational structure of the business

If every company director is ready to take on the consequences of his risk-taking and his function, he must plan an appropriate organisation which, without taking away the final decision, allows him to avoid having to take on everything alone. Structuring the company operationally is also fundamental so that it does not fall apart if its leader has a health problem or breaks down psychologically in the face of pressure that has become unbearable for one person.

There are several ways. The first is to accept to delegate by relying on trusted collaborators and/or peers. You cannot consider developing your company if you do not accept to delegate. Delegating allows you to take your head off the wheel, to have time to think about the future. When a company grows, it is neither possible nor advisable for the founder to continue to manage all the files as he did when his company was starting up or smaller.

One way to do this is to set up a management committee. In order to achieve its mission of developing the company's activities, it brings together people who will make structuring decisions together and steer the execution of the strategic plan. Depending on the sector of activity, it brings together business managers (finance, HR, marketing, communication, etc.) and/or operational managers (innovation, production, logistics, customer service, etc.). This is the first stage of the management system rocket, as its implementation has both a knock-on effect on the entire organisation and a rapid positive impact on the management of the company, the detection of opportunities, and the follow-up of actions.

Secondly, the leader must remain focused on his or her objectives and development plan in order to make the necessary trade-offs at the appropriate time. This is undoubtedly the most difficult process for the leader to follow. But it is by far the most important. Without a focus on the objectives of the development plan, stagnation, or even difficulties, will set in. For the manager, it is the risk of being caught up in the daily routine and the multiple operational difficulties linked to the failure to respect the strategy and the plan, the absence of focus, and the delegation of responsibilities.

Anticipate by giving oneself the ability to listen to weak signals

Secondly, the manager must be willing to listen to weak signals. As soon as an event that would normally have seemed harmless and manageable creates a feeling of panic and seems insurmountable, however minor it may be, they must react.

How can they do this?

Firstly, by arranging their schedule so that they have time to breathe and take a step back from their problems - whatever the purpose of these breaks (sport, culture, meditation, spiritual retreat, travel, etc.);

Secondly, by paying attention to their health and thinking about insurance that will take over financially in the event of physical or psychological health problems so that the absence does not affect the expenses due (e.g. daily allowances, "key man" type insurance);

Third track: relying on partners who will provide concrete help, some on the personal aspects (coaches, mentors, doctors, etc.), and others on the business aspects (operating partners). For example, an operating partner will work with the manager and co-pilot of the company, drawing on his or her own experience as a business leader and committing to results. Without depriving him of his role as the head of his company, he will help him in his decision-making, the structuring and operational management of the operations provided for in the strategic plan, the definition and adjustment of performance indicators, the management and mobilisation of teams, taking into account his state of health and putting into perspective what must and can be done.

The challenges facing French companies and entrepreneurs in 2023 are enormous in a business environment where visibility remains as low as ever. In order to hold on, ensure the sustainability of their companies, and project themselves into the future, managers will have no other option than to accept to let go and, to do so, to adjust their operational organisation and rely on partners. The rope is already very tight, and it would not take much for an extra mental load to break it. It is therefore urgent to make the mental health of SME managers a priority. Their burden is sometimes very heavy to bear, and their resilience determines the survival of 146,000 French SMEs and the jobs of the 4 million employees who make up their ranks.

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