15 August 2023

Loss of meaning at work, a new psychological health diagnosis?

Préambule : The loss of meaning at work, a scourge I hear more and more, and one that is suffocating many. On average, one in five Canadians report high levels of stress at work, due to heavy mental workloads and work-life balance1 . This ratio is similar among our American neighbors2 . The world of work is changing, and the days of working like robots are over! For that, there's artificial intelligence. So, how do you evolve in this changing world while remaining aligned with your convictions and empowered, but not giddy? These strategies, which you may find useful (I did), are simple and easy to implement.

According to recent studies, the loss of meaning has multiple causes, but it seems clear that it is an individual perception that interprets our role and our sense of belonging in our organization as being of little use, not very coherent, and often accompanied by little decision-making autonomy34.

Asking the right questions

Workers are the experts in their role, but they still need to understand that role. Constant optimization, change within the work team and pressure to perform is the winning recipe for an adjustment disorder, whatever the role. From entrepreneur-owner to CEO to employee...

An emergency doctor who doesn't know how to work, or doesn't understand his or herrole, is a danger to the profession. A firefighter who doesn't know how to put out a fire is an arsonist.

Let's start by taking some conscious time to put down on paper the totality of our real, everyday actions and clarify their their reason for existing. Simple, isn't it? In my experience, it's an action of colossal complexity. Indeed, as an occupational therapist, every week I hear a heavy silence when I ask the question - Can you describe a typical day? The answer I normally get is "it depends". Not being able to put one's daily actions into clear words is one of the precipitating causes of psychological distress at work. Moreover, it's a sign that we're working on automatic pilot, and studies of mindfulness in the business sector have long shown that increased mindfulness is associated with increased creativity and reduced burnout5.

If you're putting out fires all day long, this is your work reality and no longer constitutes an emergency. Let's simplify and become real experts by taking the time to break down the recurring tasks of everyday life. From the best times to check e-mail, to prioritizing them, to attending virtual meetings according to a set agenda, to installing a windscreen. The concept is to stop valuing ourselves for putting out fires, and simplify the methods we repeat every day, so that they become our reassuring rather than destabilizing reference points.

The mission of this blog is to simplify strategies so that you can apply them as soon as you read this article. To that end, here are some ideas to try out this week.

    • Concretely define in words that clearly express the image of the action to be produced in an eight-hour day at work. For example:
      • Start my day by answering emails for 30 minutes while maintaining my unavailable status online;
      • Call four customers to follow up on the service received by asking five questions after the morning meeting;
      • Install a windshield following the steps written on the wall in 15 minutes.

Well-being at work. Yes, but how?

Understanding one's role, clarifying real expectations, expressing operational shortcomings and strengths to pleasantly assume one's role within the organization. In fact, researchers have shown that workplaces that target their employees motivation by personalizing their approach to wellness culture and listening to their point of view achieve a higher index of "perceived meaning at work". This is also what I hear regularly. Workers are the experts in their role and motivation is significantly increased when they are heard. Does this mean that everyone makes decisions without the consent of the immediate superior? No, of course not. However, having the chance to speak up and be heard is a low-cost and meaningful habit.

Two best strategies for being heard at work

    1. Give yourself a personal trial period (between three and five days) and welcome tasks, requests and needs as if they were new information, to objectively name the strengths and weaknesses of your routine, your daily operations. It will undoubtedly be energy-consuming at the time, but I promise you it's step #1 to professional and personal health. Work-life balance is based on an understanding of our role and our values. Identity is defined and self- confidence increases.
      • In clinical terms, I call this stage the time granulator. I was inspired by Serge Beauchemin at a conference, and I can safely say that this is the trigger for many good decisions and actions.
    2. Effective presentation in discussion mode (curiosity, interest, professional opinion) of the results gathered during the time granulator to the resource person:
      • By subject, task, occupation, etc.
      • What works
      • What deserves our attention

In real life

Three questions to ask yourself as a worker

  1. What is my organization's mission?
  2. What are my recurring tasks and how can I manage them?
  3. Who is my contact person at work, and what is my concrete role?

Three actions to be taken by the organization

  1. Clarify the organization's mission by consulting each employee. Our terms, your terms; keep it simple.
  2. Take the time to take the time by realistically quantifying the time it takes to do recurring work.
  3. Define a spokesperson who is also a good communicator to explain the reason for the changes, and who has enough power to express to her superiors that her team is breathless with change when this is felt... On the other hand, this is the person who has the most exhausting role within a company. Courage

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Thank you! Have a great day!



1. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/230619/dq230619c-fra.html
2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness
3. Coutrot, Thomas. (2023). La perde de sens du travail, nouveau risque psychosocial ? Organisation du travail et risques psychosociaux.
Les apports de la recherche.

4. https://www.msss.gouv.qc.ca/professionnels/statistiques-donnees-sante-bien-etre/flash-surveillance/la-sante-au-travail-en-quelques-chiffres/
5. Langer, Heffernan, & Kiester, 1988

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