Ombuds’ corner: Controlling our own stress

In this series, the Bulletin aims to explain the role of the Ombuds at CERN by presenting practical examples of misunderstandings that could have been resolved by the Ombuds if he had been contacted earlier. Please note that, in all the situations we present, the names are fictitious and used only to improve clarity.


Bob* has been working at CERN for years. During his career he developed many skills, being now an expert technician, the kind of person who can handle all urgencies. He is always ready to help and everyone appreciates him a lot. When asked for some kind of immediate help, his answer is most of the time: “I will take care of it”. Of course everyone having a problem loves such an answer! After a reorganization done in his region of CERN, Bob found himself working with new people, not knowing as much as he did their way around. Without noticing it at the beginning, Bob started to respond to more and more requests.

What happened? His mobile phone was interrupting him in the middle of his interventions on the field, his list of things to do during each day could barely be accomplished, only to the price of reducing his lunch time and working a bit longer hours. To face in addition the corresponding administrative tasks became a too heavy challenge. Fully dedicated to his job, Bob did not realize that he was becoming overworked until his physical and mental energy collapsed within a short length of time. Exhausted he had no other choice than seeing the Medical Service and the psychologist of this Service. Bob also finally – but not too late - came to the Ombuds to explore how he could discuss with his supervisor in order to reach a better agreement concerning his work load.

Several issues were at stake: the unavoidable tasks for the Organization, the sharing of the work load among the too few members of his team, his own organization of work, and his personal unawareness to his increasing stress leading him at the end to be overwhelmed by it. None of that could be disregarded; all issues had to be considered seriously.

All aspects were then discussed: better planning, priority setting, proposal for some external help, well-advanced forecasting of future loads, and a more effective timesharing helping to control the interruptions. Based on his meeting with the psychologist, he approached also some possibilities of detecting and improving his own awareness and his control towards stress such as training, external activities allowing him to reach a better balance between work and spare time, as well as few methods to help him getting a better insight of himself allowing him to detect the early signals of nervous strain. Bob decided to first talk himself to his supervisor, and agreed to come back to the Ombuds in case the situation would not improve.

Some level of positive stress cannot be avoided at different periods of work. Such stress is actually favorable to the best effectiveness, especially in a front-edge world-leading research center where everyone wants the success of the Laboratory. It is of course a very different story to be overwhelmed by a too high level of negative stress. In order to reach a better balance of work, both the external causes to stress, and our own internal awareness to stress, have to be improved. The external conditions could lead to stress, but we are still responsible of our own answer to such a stress.

* Names and story are purely fictitious.

Contact the Ombuds early!


by Vincent Vuillemin