Mental load: “We need to stop valuing time spent at work”

management pRaCtICes

by Thomas Porez

Mental load is not limited to the context of parenting and personal life. It is also present in the workplace, in the form of an increasingly destructive over -demand, which paralyzes decision -making. Adrien Chignard, occupational psychologist, gives his advice on combating this phenomenon specific to the 21st century.

What do we talk about when we talk about “mental weight” at work?

The stress of mental work affects us all. It can mean the amount of information (visual, auditory, sensory, olfactory, gustatory) that our brain has to process at one time T. There is so much that we can’t process them all and we have to sort priority data and secondary data. When this mental weight goes down, we are talking about being overweight. Our cognitive funnel is filled with a lot of information. But our brain has to keep moving forward. To reduce the complexity of the world, he uses techniques to make it faster. But sadly this is it cognitive biases.

In the business world, mental load is especially difficult to manage in matrix organizations operating in “project mode”, with multiple interlocutors and more frequent interruptions to deal with. The stakes on projects being done are high, timings are tight, resources are declining and endless meetings are increasing.

At work, mental workload is associated with mentalization of activity. It’s less painful than ever from a physical point of view, but it’s more so from a mental point of view. It is also linked to the growing complexity of organizations, especially when they are multinational: employees find it increasingly difficult to understand who does what, who is responsible, and who is in question.

In the end, we live in a world of entertainment which we cannot see, but can add to the burden. Corporate social networks and their instant messaging, the “fun” we try to inject into offices, the pop-ups that flash everywhere during video sessions … This disruption distracts our attention, which is a component of thinking to load the mind with memory. . Employees and managers often complain of excessive stretching; not just with face-to-face colleagues, but also through a flood of email and instant messages.

Read also : Slower work: work slower, but better!

What are the effects of this overload for employees?

If you are overworked and constantly distracted (knowing that it is impossible to ignore these stops by simple will), you should always refocus your attention. However, forcing his brain to return to the first task is excessive energy consumption.

But the issue related to mental load is more than the fatigue it creates. If you are overweight, you can make poor decisions. This can have even more detrimental work consequences. Your brain is likely to get saturated, and you will multiply oversights and mistakes.

Also read: Overconnectedness and over-investment in work: companies facing “workaholism”

How do we fight against this excessive mental stress at work, on an individual level?

Four key words: cut, cut, distribute, disconnect. We must first cut off the distractions, at the source; that is to say anything that generates notifications (e-mail, instant messaging, etc.), for at least 2 x 45 minutes throughout the day. The idea is to stop what dangers are distracting our attention and change our ability to concentrate, to gain an acceptable mental load, which will allow us to work more efficiently.

Next to it working in “airplane mode”, the idea is to take into account the fact that it is not possible to constantly cut yourself off from all distractions, some of which may be important. For this, the second step is to cut out every major task small units dispersed in his schedule. To limit the mental load, it is not mandatory to perform the activity imagined by the brain: it is enough to guarantee that it can be done in a reasonable time. Doing an important task in multiple stages, and planning for it, can help calm the sense of urgency.

Third advice: distribution. “Multitasking” is thus rare indeed, as it is not possible to do many tasks at the same time. Often, instead of doing many actions in parallel, we do them with each other; which is not good in our attention. To restore it firmly, the idea of ​​“attention restoration theory” is holiday, every day in the middle of his day, to operate on other parts of his brain than is required by his daily life. If you read or write all day, the idea is to use something other than your verbal intelligence, for example your spatial intelligence, by walking 40 minutes. It allows the brain to restore higher executive functions, those that allow it to make the most complex decisions.

Finally, the fourth step is to disconnect. It’s important to listen to the “signals” of being overweight-concentration problems, attention spans, memory problems-and schedule rest / recovery times during the week. There’s no question of just waiting for the weekend to be disconnected: you also need to set up real “sanctuary hours”. For an hour or two, once a week, you will take time for yourself, unplug your smartphone and do something that will allow you to get away from your daily life and your work. Rest is about training, there is no lasting performance without constant recovery. Unfortunately, we often confuse frequency and intensity: to regain energy, the idea is not to work non-stop for 11 months and take 5 weeks off in a row, but to find a more often and spread the rest.

Read also : Burn-out: “you have to treat the bad, but also the job itself”

What can managers do to help their mentally retarded employees?

The first thing to do is management through results. Instead of focusing on how to do it, the idea is for managers to focus on expected outcomes. If the company allows each employee to organize their time independently, it recognizes their need for concentration. Everyone works at their own pace, with preferred schedules: you also have to allow everything is organized according to his specifics and his personal life. So we need to stop giving value to the time spent at work and the speed of responding to e-mails (devices that are, remember, asynchronous).

Managers can also focus their team management at extra cost: it’s the idea of ​​focusing time and energy on all of the tasks that create value. No more duplicate reports, no need for videoconferences. It can be interesting to make a ‘dry january’ of meetings, skipping all the meetings on the agenda for an entire month. Of course, some cannot be erased. But by the end of this initiative, you will always realize that a lot of it is more or less useless. It is a question of taking stock of tasks that are done only out of habit but not to create value, in order to save time and energy to focus more on those that allow you real progress. in your work.

The company will also benefit from setting up one climate of psychological safety. It must be ensured that employees are able to express their difficulties and weaknesses, without fear of being punished or not listened to.

Finally, it is important to manage self -goodness : we can only give others what we have. So managers also need to be careful with themselves. Manage their own mental load, to better manage that of their peers.

Read also : Right to disconnect: “In the age of hybrid work, the role of managers is important”

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