The mental load of managers

What is wrong with me? I am preparing dinner and I am still thinking about the afternoon meeting with Marie, one of my new team members, who is having difficulties fitting into the team. It's going round and round in my head... How can I help her when most of the team is working remotely?

Like Pierre, a remote team manager, do you also ask yourself these kinds of questions while reading a good book, preparing a meal, in the shower or even worse, in your sleep?

The results of our recent survey conducted among managers prove it: the 'Chargus Mentalus' or mental load is very present and takes many forms..

Now is the time to assess the situation by reading our analysis and recommendations.

Mental load: an insidious and systemic increase

The first lockdown linked to Covid19 put everyone in a state of absolute emergency and led to a completely different way of life what with the lockdown itself and compulsory teleworking.

While some people started to panic about its consequences on the lives of millions (billions) of people, others took it lightly or with a certain degree of resilience and saw it as an unusual stage in their lives and a welcome opportunity to change their pace (no more transport to take, remote drinks with friends, special moments with family, a new way of organising their time, etc.).

And then, the lockdown came to an end and life resumed its course, still a little hectic but almost "normal" for some.

The stereotypical image of "life before" with its outings, encounters and freedom was quickly restored. Last summer was a good example of this in many countries. The system always tends to regain its balance!

Then, like a sledgehammer, a second lockdown hit, followed closely by a harsh curfew and suddenly this seemingly newfound balance was completely jeopardised: no more outings, no more trips, no more socialising, no more culture... no more freedom! And a full return to teleworking.

Pull, pull on the rubber band and it will eventually snap...

For managers, caught up in the initial turmoil of organisation at all costs (teams, projects, tasks, schedules, etc.), the issues began to pile up at the same rate as internal restructuring (a sign of the times):

« Can I still legitimately conduct my management remotely? »

« How can I help my new employees to integrate remotely into the team? »

« How can I reassure my employees when faced with potential internal changes? »

« How can we give meaning to our actions? »

« How can I maintain links within and outside my team? »

However, in the majority of organisations, managers often act as an adjustment variable to absorb the deviations, differences and new developments brought about by change for everyone (see François Dupuy's "Lost in Management")

If employees are confronted with the difficulties of a new and unprecedented situation, managers play an additional role: they are caught between the performance expectations of their management and the expectations of their employees to make sense of it. (See works by Michel Fiol and Michel Lebas, 1998)

So they have to deal with the bosses, the employees and themselves!

And now they have entered the spiral of the famous "Mental Load", too often misunderstood by our society as well as by public and private organisations.

What is the Mental load?

Why is it so poorly understood?

This may be because use of the term has evolved and our definition of it is now very different from one person to another.

Originally, the notion of mental load was derived directly from sociological work carried out in the 1980s.

Sociologists then spoke of a domestic mental load to describe the place occupied by domestic tasks in the minds of women who worked at the same time.

In the case of the mental load of managers, the influence of a new remote working structure (wrongly referred to as "teleworking") has contributed greatly to a profound upheaval among managers.

They found themselves having to organise and coordinate their team while managing a fragile life balance affected by working "at home".

The domestic mental load has thus become a professional mental load.

It is the last straw or a sign of the times that work has become too much a part of the home!

There are many theories to try to pinpoint the possible reasons for the difficulty in identifying mental load.

We have decided to focus on the following two:

A new, insidious pace of work
The dynamics of time and the sense of a complete return to the "yo-yo" activity of the last few months have obscured what was otherwise starting to become a more permanent situation.
If the ideal rate of teleworking is 1 to 2 days/week, too much is the enemy of good.
Indeed, many managers have continued to work remotely as part of preventive health measures in the workplace.
With 5 days/week of remote work, often by videoconference, distance and physical immobility have taken a serious toll on the physical needs and social nature that characterise human beings.

The deterioration in the quality of exchanges
The flow and quality of exchanges have been greatly affected by physical distance as well as by the situation.
It is not easy to sit down to think and talk about yourself and others when the hubbub of a household can be heard around you or when your partner is experiencing the same constraints and difficulties as you.

The consequences are, like the mental load, subtle and tricky as shown by the results of our recent Ask'n Get by ARANSI survey of team and project managers (week 15/02/2021 to 22/02/2021):

While 5% of them are affected by a total interruption in their communication with others, 51% of the managers surveyed believe that their mental load is mainly reflected in the fact that they are constantly thinking about work;

21% of managers mention more worrying consequences in terms of the quality of their sleep;

Finally, 23% of managers no longer take the time to sit down and rest.

All this information reflects the wide variety of adverse effects that can be caused by a mental load.

A mental load that insidiously sets in, disrupting the intrinsic balance of managers: mental, physical and physiological balance.

Thoughts invade the smallest amount of free space in the 'living memory' and there is a risk of saturation

In the case of Pierre, our team manager, the physical distance from his colleagues and his immobility, confined to the space of his computer or telephone, caused him to experience procrastination and frustration: decreased motivation, difficulty in managing and prioritising requests and a constant feeling of tiredness.

How can the mental load be eased?

The risk of a mental load is mainly due to the difficulty for some managers to become aware of it.

A burn-out is on the horizon!

So before you get carried away, here are a few tips:

Be aware of micro-signals
Every action begins with awareness. Review the results of our survey. If you already fall into one of these categories, STOP!
This is a warning sign.
Quickly scan all of the following points:
Your feelings and emotions: what are they? How do they influence your life, your reactions and your actions?
Your thoughts: what place do your personal thoughts occupy in your professional life? What place do your professional thoughts occupy in your personal life?
Your managerial actions (or inactions): what actions have you actually taken? What issues are you specifically procrastinating about?

Review the pillars of personal balance
How much of my time does my professional life take up? What proportion of my time does my family life represent? How much time do I spend socialising
What do I no longer take the time to do for myself?

Communicate (again)!
Sharing part of your mental load is a crucial first option.
The more you close in on yourself, the more your thoughts will take up the little space left. We are all familiar with the metaphor of the hamster wheel.
The hamster runs in circles but makes no progress. It is time to get off that wheel!
Choose the person you feel is most open to understanding and listening to you and tell him/her about your specific needs (as well as his/her role).

Move (again)!
What about your physical activity? How much importance do you give to physical movement in your life? How do you view the relation between wellness of the mind and wellness of the body?
Maybe it's time to get a breath of fresh air: walk, run, move... live!

In Pierre's case, the opportunity to talk with his management helped to make him aware of a significant mental load and to encourage him to make an appointment with an Ask'n Get by ARANSI expert.

He was therefore able to define his needs and benefit from practical advice that he could implement quickly to get back on track.

Discover Ask'n Get by ARANSI to take a step back from your management and benefit from contextualised, tailor-made advice from our experts.