Why it is hard to be a good leader when uncertainty reigns

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Reorganizations, relocations, risk of cessation of activities… In a context of economic turmoil, uncertainty in many companies. Caught between the hammer and the anvil, managers often struggle to manage these changes, to cope with the demands of their management and the anxieties of their collaborators. For Adrien Chignard, psychologist of work, it is necessary to adopt a management of uncertainty.

Interview by Margaux Rambert – updated February 15, 2019 at 9:05

In the Face of reorganizations, relocations, risk of cessation of activity… you talk about a ” management of uncertainty “. What is it ?

Adrien Chignard : many companies are indeed confronted with situations of uncertainty and ambiguity in relation to the future. They may experience small changes (tools, computer) and much more important (moving, reorganizing). In the Face of these difficult situations, the managers are caught between the hammer and the anvil : they face pressure from their management, who told them that he must go forward and implement projects, and that of their employees so that they respond to : move forward yes, but in what direction ? Very often, they do not have the answer.

Why is it so important to accompany these changes ?

Adrien Chignard : When one announces to the employees that in six months they will move or that the company will be a reorganization, it generates in them the anxiety is anticipatory. They expect to change, but they do not yet know what it is. The problem is that anxiety takes up all the space we give it. It will increase, there will be rumors : “We are going to be relocated, we are going to close”… Unless there is presence of managers on the field, the more the anxiety is going to be strong and self-feeding.

What are the practical consequences, psychic and physical, of uncertain situations ?

Adrien Chignard : The uncertainty creates a lot of stress, sleep disorders, increased alcohol consumption, especially among women. It consumes a lot of our energy, of our vigilance. However, these reservoirs are not infinite. The more we are anxious, the less we feel powerful and we are stressed. There is also evidence that anxious anticipation, increasing blood pressure and coronary heart disease. The mental health consequences are also taken into account. There are two forms of insecurity. The first, quantitative : is what I’m going to lose my job ? The second, qualitative : is the content, the scope of my job will remain the same or is it that it will be degraded ? When we are hired in a company, we do not sign only a contract of employment. We are also committed to give the best of ourselves and, in return, we expect to be respected. Employees are often the reorganizations and the move was unfair because they had asked nothing. They have the impression of a unilateral breach of the psychological contract with their employer.

In the Face of the anxiety of their teams, on what pitfalls can become managers ?

Adrien Chignard : Many of them are fleeting. They do not know how to respond, they are afraid of losing their legitimacy in the managerial if they admit it, so they hide. They are pretending to be very busy, close their door… They do not dare to say that they do not know. There are also “benevolent clumsy”. It is the manager that his employee said : “I’m afraid, I’ve just bought a house near work, I don’t know how it’s going to happen if it is moved”, and who is going to reply : “Don’t worry, it will do, of all ways, it has to be.” He believes he is empathic, but in reality, he does not listen to his collaborator. He counteracts his emotion by telling him that he has no reason to be afraid. Result : the person feels that they are neither supported, nor helped, nor understood, which is going to generate anger.

What is it that employees expect from their leaders in these difficult situations ?

Adrien Chignard : They need to feel supported and to restore a feeling of control over their environment. It is what allows you to alleviate anxiety. Except that the managers are well worth it because, most of the time, themselves do not know what will happen and are happening. This is the core issue of the healthy change process, these processes of change healthy : succeed to create a bit of serenity in an uncertain situation.

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