Stress at work and abandoned by his wife

Woman holds her hands in front of her face

Stress at work and abandoned by his wife

A heavy workload is self-evident for most small and medium sized (SME) entrepreneurs – and all right, too. But when private problems arise, a balance is needed, otherwise burnout is imminent. A case study.

A Thursday in February, 6:20 a.m.: Irene Ruetz is drinking a coffee when she receives a call. It is the owner of a SME, whom the psychologist and case manager recently met at the business breakfast of a Zurich general agency. Now the man, in his mid-forties, is going through the biggest crisis of his life: his wife left him the previous day after 12 years of marriage, and she has taken their two children with her.

The owner of a craft business could not sleep all night, his heart is racing, and his tinnitus has become louder. Irene Ruetz advises him to consult his family doctor as soon as possible. Later on, she will meet with him. "This is an emergency intervention," explains the Zurich case manager. "In an acute crisis, fast action is crucial."

Pressure in business is not the problem

In a personal conversation, it turns out that the private situation also has an impact on the business. The wife of the entrepreneur was responsible for the bookkeeping. The craftsman fears that not only his marriage will fall apart, but also his company will become insolvent. "I can't concentrate on anything anymore," he complains. "My doctor said that I should take a few days off. But I have to pay my seven employees their wages."

It soon becomes clear that the private crisis is only the trigger, but not the cause of the problems. For months, the entrepreneur has been worried about the future of his business. He works day and night and is still not efficient. "What my client is experiencing is not an isolated case," says Ruetz. "Interestingly enough, the pressure in the business is usually not the problem at all," she adds. After all, the entrepreneurs love their work and the creative freedom they have. But there is a great danger that they demand too much of themselves with additional activities - and neglect their family and social contacts for lack of time.

I can no longer be happy.

The case manager's task is now to bring in an outside perspective, to give the person concerned a foundation and to plan the next steps together. The craftsman says that he has been feeling bad for several weeks: he suffers from sleepless nights, anxiety attacks, and is irritable. "I haven't been able to feel really happy for a long time," he realizes. Irene Ruetz knows that the entrepreneur with these symptoms shows many signs of a depression and incipient exhaustion, otherwise referred to as burnout. 

Together with the client, the case manager tries to bring order into the chaos. "A weekly plan gives the brain peace through clear structures. This way, my client can focus his energy again. The important thing is that I help him, but he has to become active himself and take his life in his own hands again." Irene Ruetz advises SME owners like the affected craftsman intensively. They meet several times a week and she is always available by phone. "An employee can take his time to recover, an entrepreneur often cannot because he is the soul of his company."

Working with heart and soul again

"Mutual communication and support are extremely important," Ruetz states. Now it is paying off that the company has built up a strong corporate culture over the past few years. "Thanks to the loyalty of his employees, my client can finally work again with joy, heart, and soul after a few weeks. 

Because communication with his wife is still difficult, even after a long time, Irene Ruetz finds a mediator for the couple. This way, the entrepreneur manages to find a solution for all organizational issues, from joint custody of the children to the sale of the house. After two months, the case manager feels that her client is able to organize his life again. She is now slowly fading into the background: "He knows that he can call me at any time in a difficult situation".

Crisis as an opportunity

A year later, Irene Ruetz and the entrepreneur meet again. He looks good, has lost a few pounds and has fallen in love with a fellow club member. Looking back, he is convinced that the crisis had a good side: "I am still highly committed, but I have learned to delegate more and to take care of myself." Thanks to the mediator, his relationship with his wife has eased, as has his financial situation. 

"Should I have sought your support earlier?" the entrepreneur asks at the end of the conversation. "And what can I do for my employees?" The case manager confirms that there are effective tools to prevent burnout and depression. Zurich has a specialized prevention team that provides companies with advice and support on all issues relating to a healthy working environment. "Without you, my company would have gone down the drain – have I ever thanked you properly?" the entrepreneur asks when saying goodbye to Irene Ruetz. The case manager returns the handshake: "You’re doing well again, that’s the nicest acknowledgment for me."

Prevention pays off

Exhaustion and burnout are not an unchangeable fate. In general, there are many ways to prevent absences:

  • Recognizing patterns
    Absence management helps to identify patterns and prevent absences. Zurich provides its customers with helpful tools and supports them in their analysis.
  • Take responsibility
    Don't just stand by and watch if an employee suddenly becomes apathetic, if mistakes accumulate, if he or she no longer keeps appointments, or is often sick. Seek dialogue.
  • Keep in touch
    Especially in the case of longer absences, keep in touch with the employees concerned, inform them about developments in the company, and offer them a perspective for their return.
  • Show respect
    Always show respect for your employees, even in the event of conflicts. 
  • Healthy company culture
    A good working atmosphere is the best protection against absenteeism. Invest in open, respectful communication and take time for your employees.
  • Take advantage of the services offered
    Zurich's Corporate Health Consulting Team can advise you in person or by telephone on topics such as absence management, work-life balance, burnout or stress prevention. With early intervention, the threat of burnout can often be prevented.
Zurich SME Magazine issue 5 published on September 20, 2021

The magazine for companies

Inform yourself about new trends, read captivating company portraits and learn important facts about your most biggest risks as an SME – and how you can mitigate them.

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