“The impact of Covid-19 on the health and morale of business leaders”, Interview with Olivier TORRES, AMAROK Observatory

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In February, the Amarok Observatory published its second national survey on the impact of Covid-19 on the health and morale of business leaders. A year after the beginning of the crisis, it provides an overview of the health of French leaders. To get a clear picture of the situation before and during the health crisis, BORDEAUX Business spoke with Olivier TORRES. Founder and president of the AMAROK Observatory created in 2009, professor at the University of Montpellier and MBS, holder of the health chair of entrepreneurs within LABEX Entrepreneur, Olivier TORRES is a specialist in small and medium-sized enterprises. Working for many years on SMEs, he deciphers the new survey on the morale of business leaders since the beginning of Covid-19.

olivier torres amarok covid-19 moral head of bordeaux company
Olivier TORRES, founder and president of the AMAROK Observatory, professor at the University of Montpellier and MBS, holder of the chair in health of entrepreneurs at LABEX Entreprendre

The health of business leaders: an old question

When I created the AMAROK Observatory,it was because I was already realizing that we rarely and very little concerned about the health of our business leaders and entrepreneurs. Even today, a contractor does not have an occupational health service. For employees, however, it has been a right since the 1946 law. But there is nothing for non-salary workers in their great diversity. Traders, craftsmen, professionals, start-ups, service companies, small industry, winemakers

A total of 3.2 million people do not have access to it. Yet there is very little knowledge and statistics on the health of entrepreneurs. So that’s what the AMAROK Observatory does. For 12 years, we have been studying the state of the health of entrepreneurs. And for so long, we have been able to draw great results from the various studies carried out. Verifiable truths every time. Starting with the fact that doing business is good for your health.

More concretely, what makes an entrepreneur, in a “normal” health and economic context?

Overall, there are three factors to understand. First, entrepreneurs around the world are men and women who face harsher, constrained, stressful environments than others. For good reason, they work an average of 50 hours a week; they sleep less to work more; are under constant stress live in uncertainty and suffer from loneliness, have their heads in the handlebars. These are pathogens common to most business leaders of SMALL-time enterprises.

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On the other hand, and this is the second factor, fortunately there are countervailing elements, saluto-like factors. Thus, despite all the difficulties, entrepreneurs feel that they are in control of their destiny; have a high endurance endowment be hopeful and optimistic about the future. The entrepreneurial spirit is a spirit of hope. We’re always aiming to do better tomorrow. If we thought it was going to get bad, we’d better stop acting at all. But the entrepreneur shows a great capacity to adapt. We don’t talk about it enough while it’s learned and develops over the course of a lifetime.

In total, these positive factors weigh more than the negative ones. This has been called entrepreneurial salutogenesis.

Finally, there is a third observation. Nevertheless, entrepreneurs also have very low highs and lows. In fact, they experience moments of euphoria that carry them and moments of chaining bad news that can make them live hell.

Finally, to be an entrepreneur is to lead a very contrasting life. Overall, it’s good for your health, but it’s exhausting. Work more, invest your wealth, manage your employees, grow… Everything is a source of stress.

With the AMAROK Observatory, we do not try to find out the burn-out rate. It’s the work of medicine. What we are trying to find out is the risk of burn-out, burnout. To be able to prevent this risk. And the numbers have changed a lot with the Covid-19.

On the health side, what is the level of exhaustion observed among business leaders one year after the onset of the health crisis?

Let’s say the crisis amplified pathogens and atrophied the salutogenic factors. When you measure the level of burnout, the risk of burn-out has increased dramatically. To assess the evolution, an initial survey was carried out in April 2020. So it was a month after the start of the confinement. We had taken the measure on 2000 business leaders. To compare, the new survey comes just over a year later. The observation is clear: the level of exhaustion continues to increase.

In terms of numbers, we can compare with the March 2019 national survey on the health of business leaders, conducted with Opinion Way. At that time, 17.5% of entrepreneurs were at risk of exhaustion. Today, it is 36.77%. %. So the numbers have more than doubled.

Moreover, of the leaders at severe risk, it was 1.75% in March 2019. By February 2021, the level had climbed %. to 10.41%. However, these figures can be read in two ways. Either we are very alarmist and we note that 10% of the population of business leaders is in severe exhaustion. Either we see the other during, since it also means that 90% of business leaders are not in severe exhaustion. For my part, given the health and economic context, I think it is good to see the positive.

Especially since we need to understand what lies behind the risk of burn-out in SME- SMEs. In small and medium-sized enterprises, an executive who can no longer work is the risk of a complete shutdown of the company. This is not the case in large groups. We always tend to talk about large groups, but it is not the majority of the economic landscape and we cannot assimilate SMEs and large groups. There are very specific ways of operating in SMEs. In a large company, if the leader is prevented, someone takes over and nothing changes. Except that in Europe, the average size of the 25 million companies in Europe is 6.5 employees. So it’s a large majority of SMEs.

What specific syndromes related to the physical and mental health of business leaders emerged following the second confinement in the autumn of 2020?

That is precisely the second point to note. In addition to an increased risk of burn-out, there is a metamorphosis of the depletion syndrome of business leaders. For 10 years and about 25 studies, when burnout was measured, the same determinants were always in the lead. They were very well identified.

moral health business leaders covid
Photo credit: AMAROK Observatory – Photograph by Jean Lecourieux-Bory

First, the feeling of disappointment. The entrepreneur could be disappointed with his employees, his customers, the state, his family environment… This disappointment can be explained quite easily. We are dealing with people who are so invested that they expect too much from their environment. Then there was the feeling of wear and tear. The daily life means that the entrepreneur loses his passion, his passion. Finally, we found the infernal couple lack of sleep / fatigue.

However, during the crisis, for the first time, factors 1 and 2 are the feeling of helplessness and the feeling of being stuck. The first refers to the inability to understand what will be done the next day. The second, the inability to act. This is completely new.

In fact, containment is tetanus and impairs mental health. Business leaders are not so afraid of the virus. The problem is that containment is stalling. You should know that business leaders have a dual psychological characteristic. They are hyperactive people who are suddenly forced to stay at home. And these are people who seek the feeling of control, which one comes suddenly broken by the feeling of helplessness.

Are the conditions that usually characterize the entrepreneurial world still present among business leaders?

Today we are on adaptive entrepreneurship. For a long time, an entrepreneur was planning, anticipating. We’d put out a business plan and make plans for the comet. Today, it is very complicated to read the environment. It’s a bit of the same difference between inviting friends to eat and seeing them disembark unexpectedly. When we invite, we have time to anticipate the menu, to prepare everything well. Whereas when they arrive without warning, we open his fridge, we take stock of the situation, and we find solutions.

We always come back to adaptability. In entrepreneurship, it is always better to be adaptable rather than adapted. Otherwise, as soon as you change context, you don’t fit into the boxes anymore.

According to the February study on the health of business leaders, the most important feature was adaptability. The leader is not the weapon in his foot waiting for defeat: he struggles. This is what I called the colin maillard effect. They have a blindfold on them and move forward blindly. But they are always trying to adapt, which is a pretty good sign.

Moreover, while we are still talking about the difficulties of business leaders because of the Covid-19, it should still be noted that almost 10% even increased their turnover during the crisis.

Does the crisis allow business leaders to seize opportunities?

There are inspiring, adaptive entrepreneurs. I give you the example of a young entrepreneur from EM Lyon. He makes jars of organic ready meals. During the crisis, he began selling it to hotels that wanted to continue to offer a catering service to their customers. We also have Michelin, which starts making hydroalcoholic gel. Or learning how to use digital tools. In my personal situation, it allowed me to offer paid lectures on Zoom.

In fact, the finding is simple. Business leaders need to get carried out. It is the idea that when you can no longer read the environment, you at least have control over your business in-house. We can reflect on what can be done differently to generate productivity gains.

Let’s take the example of closed restaurants. It is also an opportunity to redo the paintings for example. Rather than closing for 3 weeks while we could be open, we take advantage of the administrative closure to put things back clean. You can also renegotiate your bills to reduce your expenses. Or reduce office space to reduce the cost of rent.

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This crisis came to us unexpectedly, but we must stop complaining. Let’s look at the company’s skills and resources to create new activities and new business avenues that will be sustainable tomorrow.

What are business leaders looking to do to bounce back at the start of the year?

In addition to the ability to adapt, there is also a desire to make sense of what we are doing. In fact, the crisis has allowed us to take stock of what we want to do, what we do not want to do, with whom we want to do it and how we want to do it. It’s a salutary introspection. Many have come to the realization that they did not want to start again at the same pace as before.

That applies to myself as well. I was able to take more time for myself, for my family. I’ve changed my habits. I had not watched a film with the family for 30 years, I rediscovered this pleasure.

In fact, we worked a lot from a distance. After that, I think nature will regain its rights. We’re still going to have to manage a face-to-face/digital mix. Having said that, for me, there’s going to be a no-brainer. Depending on the nature of the meetings, those who will be present will always have an advantage over those who are at a distance. Nature will regain its rights, but meetings on trivial issues can continue to take place remotely. In fact, we will have to equip rooms capable of co-modal.

Moreover, as much as the distance is easy for large groups, this is not necessarily the case for SMEs. For good reason, the SME is a local management, a more sensory company. This is also why the crisis is more cruel for SMEs than for large groups.

There are also other factors, other changes that are taking place in companies. Starting with the desire to be consistent with its values. But also, the fact of assuming the consequence of his actions. It goes both ways: if I succeed it’s because of me, if I fail, it’s my fault too. There is also an increase in the sense of self-efficacy. The feeling that what I do, I will be able to do.

Somehow, the crisis has a positive virtue for entrepreneurship but also for health. It’s good for your health to be adaptive, much better than being rigid. This promotes sustainable entrepreneurship.

Does the amount of information related to the health crisis affect the health of business leaders? Is it holding back entrepreneurship?

At the time of the first confinement, for the first time, business leaders spending much more time learning. On the other hand, the more informed they were, the worse their health was. It makes a lot of sense. Leaders were in poorer mental health because the media are governed by the law of death/kilometer. The idea that we are talking much more about half-bad local news than real bad news in another country for example. It also refers to the idea that bad news attracts more attention than good news.

For the past year, the press has been looping on the Covid-19. The variants, astrazeneca, the mortality rate… Inevitably, exposure to anxiety-causing sources impairs mental health. Moreover, at this moment, one new hunt the other. The information perishes as quickly as it comes out.

The whole gives birth to an impediment syndrome. When a business leader is prevented from working, he does not take time for himself. In reality, it exhausts him even more. For good reason, they are personalities of action and vision.

There is also a second finding related to information. Indeed, an entrepreneur is someone who goes from information to idea and idea to opportunity. Except that the crisis atrophys the ability to assess opportunities. That’s why it’s important to get started to find new recipes. This restores balm to the work, allows to regain confidence and regain the salutogenic factors.

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