Business leaders on the verge of burnout: how to cope with the pressure?

By François Sabaté, Managing Director and Operating Partner at I&S Adviser

Listening, surrounding yourself, oxygenating yourself and revisiting your management form the winning quartet to hold on in the crisis. While nearly 1 in 5 managers was faced with a professional burnout in 2019, it is essential to activate the right levers to cope with the pressure of the crises that follow one another.

SME managers are cracking up. The studies follow one another and the finding remains the same, even worsens: the risk of burn-out of the entrepreneur is more than real and affects more and more leaders – 17.5% of the leaders of VSEs-SMEs according to a study by Groupe VYV – Harmonie Mutuelle among CPME managers published in May 2021[1]. Who does not have in his entourage a business leader who says he is both discouraged and disconcerted by the magnitude of the task and seems on the verge of losing his footing? However, the manager’s stress and mental load slow down his decision-making process and his risk-taking…

Since the beginnings of an admission of burnout among business leaders

The trend began to be publicly mentioned in the 2010s with, among other things, a study by the Conseil de l’Ordre des Experts-Comptables with TNS Sofres in 2010, the release of the book To flourish, to succeed without failing in 2015 at Fayard and the film A man in a hurry in 2018. The creation of the APESA association in 2013 is part of this movement to recognize the suffering and risk of burnout among business leaders.

What robot portrait of the entrepreneur threatened by burnout? According to the Groupe VYV Harmonie Mutuelle study of May 2021, the most exposed are business leaders under the age of 45, employers (risk detected in 24.4% of them compared to 13.3% for those who do not have no employees) and who became business leaders out of necessity (risk of burnout detected in 30.5% of these leaders) than by choice and opportunity (17%).

For more than 2 years, the risk has been increasing due to the chain of completely unforeseen crises (Covid, climatic disasters, war in Ukraine) and the multiplication of all kinds of internal and external tensions (disruptions in supply, inflation, difficulties recruitment, changes in management in the post-Covid era, etc.).

Difficulty continuing to do and believe in your job

In this context, the entrepreneur manages his activity on sight, with great difficulty in setting a course and sticking to it. Moreover, if the order book shows signs of decline, there is added stress on cash flow and profitability at a time when PGE repayments will begin.

In addition, most SME bosses manage in a teleworking context which makes it more difficult to maintain cohesion and commitment and for which they are neither prepared nor trained. Micro-managing teams is time-consuming. Added to this is the difficulty felt in communicating with younger employees who do not have the same needs, requirements and relationship to the company and to work (meaning, need to belong, pro-personal life balance), or those who are looking for a less vertical management (new benchmarks, new codes of internal communication, management).

Fatigue and isolation: two risks that can precipitate a fall

Consequences: real fatigue linked to the work overload as well as a feeling of isolation, disconnection with one’s teams, and guilt for not having made the right decisions at the right time, not having been “up to » or no longer know how to go about it. However, the manager, even well surrounded in his company, even with a CoDir, can hardly confide his doubts or share his anxiety internally at the risk of weakening his teams.

Social pressure (internal and external) and the ego of the leader who must hold on, even in difficulty, add to it. As for the use of external resources (psychologist, coach, advice, trainers, others), it is still too often interpreted as an admission of weakness, in the first place by the manager himself. The loneliness of power and internal and external responsibilities fuels the risk of burnout…

However, once the burn-out has started, it is more difficult to stop it. Many of the leaders who must be hospitalized have not been listening to the various and varied signals that nevertheless existed around them. Either by ego, or by the will to control.

Four areas for action: listening, time, relationships, management

The first thing to do to avoid letting this infernal spiral begin is to relearn how to listen. It is important to ask for feedback from your team and your professional entourage (on the company, on the management, on the communication of the leader) and to take it into account, even if they are disturbing and do not go in the direction that we would have liked.

The second is to take time for yourself. This can consist of taking days off by relying more on your team to manage day-to-day and operational matters; to establish a better life balance between the time devoted to work and the time devoted to loved ones (family/friends); to find stress relief: sport, culture, gardening, DYI, travel, meditation… It doesn’t matter how busy this time is as long as the activities practiced oxygenate the body and the mind, put them in motion other than to solve the problems of business, and doing good. It is essential to his physical and mental health.

The third is to connect with peers and partners of entrepreneurs. These relationships make it possible to have an objective look at the activity and the situation of the company and to keep a cool head, especially when the observation is not satisfactory. This can be within the framework of business clubs or employer, entrepreneurial or sectoral associations;

Fourth track: change your business management plan. In the past (not so long ago), an SME boss assumed everything: he set himself the principle of always finding a solution for his company and for his employees. Suffering was inherent in being a boss. Today, the relationship to work has changed, and it is becoming difficult to recruit leaders (CEOs and DGs) with the profiles of people “ready to sacrifice everything for the company”. The social status and the level of remuneration are no longer attractive with regard to the responsibilities assumed. The younger generations of entrepreneurs create less and less alone, they favor projects with others. They also want a salaried status, a controlled working time and periods of leave. Others are trained in new approaches such as ethical management, for example, which makes it possible to limit psychosocial risks in the company while preserving economic profitability. All valid tracks to avoid the risk of cracking and depression.

Whatever the subject, the best bulwark against burnout is to fight against the natural tendency that many SME managers have to endorse everything and to increase the isolation inherent in their function and their position in relation to the ‘company. The performance of a company depends on the physical and mental fitness of its leader. To watch over his company and his teams, he will therefore have to pay attention to him.


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Business leaders on the verge of burnout: how to cope with the pressure?

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