Yesterday, the first UNIR debate of 2021 took place. Lorena Rienzi Campana, Neurochange Lab’s founder, was the guest speaker of this session dedicated to work-related stress. Under the title “At work, you choose Empowered or Chained,” the event dealt with mental health and emotional management in the workplace.

“UNIR intends to put debate at the very heart of the school, to help each other grow as citizens and to build bridges between technical knowledge and social practice,” reminded TBS professor Wafa Khlif before the session began. The session began with a short film by Karim Duval in which he introduces himself as Chief Happiness Dictator and parodies the vocabulary that companies use to portray a cool and happy image, but which in many cases does not match the real state of their employees.

After the short film, Khlif linked it to Google’s decades-long happy company movement and the fact that its employees have formed their first union to defend their labor rights. She posed a series of questions: How can we relate it to work, to competition without alternative, to rankings, to a zero-defect, zero-wait policy?

The factors of work-related stress

Lorena Rienzi explained that she currently works with multinationals and medium-sized companies. She encounters teams with very high levels of stress, due to work team’s reduction, and an unordered way of working. As for the reasons for this stress, she divided them into four indicators: too much responsibility, too many tasks to perform, responsibility for others to perform tasks, problematic human relations (poor communication, poorly defined boundaries, absent leaders…), and unsatisfactory working conditions.

“These factors do not affect everyone in the same way, some people are more resourceful, perhaps because they have been trained in emotional education or because they are more serene,” Rienzi explained. She added that although this affects a large part of the population, many people do not confront the situation for fear of reprisals. She also links it to the pandemic, “we are in a situation of a very high level of uncertainty, and the middle management at the moment is the most collapsed.” She explained that it is also because the expectations we had set in 2021 are not being met, “who knows when normality will return or if it will return at all.”

High Cost of High Achievement

Wafa Khlif asked why sometimes it is precisely the people who love their work the most who suffer the most from work-related stress. Rienzi called this phenomenon High Cost of High Achievement, the high price paid by responsible people. She said that people in love with their projects are often unable to set limits on taking responsibility. “This can lead to chronic stress, which is a disease,” she insisted. She also advised participants to apply principles of minimalism, order, and simplicity in their daily lives, which means “not taking on more work than we can do if we already have a thousand open projects.”

Khlif argued that many people have stopped looking for the meaning of life in religion or politics. “They are now looking for meaning in the workplace”. Another TBS professor, Diego Ravenda, commented that he was struck by the lack of coherence between the values that are sold outside companies (diversity, inclusion, etc.), and the internal reality of companies.

The debate ended with a final reflection by Rienzi on the transformations that the workplace is currently undergoing. She invited the participants to put emotions first and ask themselves what they want from their work.

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