What's Your Problem?

What's Your Problem? - MILLIONS TAKE PROZAC

by JEREMY BULLMORE, former chairman of J Walter Thompson, is now adirector of Guardian Media Group and WPP
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010


Q: I have recently started taking Prozac. Should I tell my board colleagues? I have a good track record at work and have recently received encouraging appraisals.

A: Did you discuss this with your doctor? If not, do so next time you renew your prescription. Most doctors will say it's up to you - and so it should be. But it's always better to ask, just in case there's some special circumstance.

So if that's the advice you're given, do you spill the beans? To me, the beans are so absurdly insignificant that I can see no point whatsoever in spilling them. Would you confess to your boss that you were taking Zantac? Or Vitamin C? Or Californian syrup of figs? He'd give you a decidedly old-fashioned look if you did.

There's still this lingering, medieval superstition that minor disorders of the head are somehow more sinister and shameful than minor disorders of the body. You seem to believe in it.

Millions take Prozac - and feel better for it. If you, too, benefit from it, then so will your work. Your appraisals suggest it already is.

I can think of only one possible circumstance in which disclosure could be advisable. If there's any specific task you continue to find particularly stressful, then you might be wise to mention it. As long as it's not absolutely central to your job, most good bosses will understand and be happy to accommodate you.


Q: My PA had several weeks off after her mother died about four months ago. But since her return, she has not been concentrating on her work Embarrassing omissions have occurred. I want to be sympathetic but, as MD, I can't afford for something disastrous to happen. We've discussed her attitude but she just seems to get upset or lose her temper. What should I do?

A: I feel extremely sorry for both of you. If there was a perfect (and perfectly humane) solution to this predicament you'd almost certainly have thought of it yourself - but there isn't.

She was once, presumably, extremely efficient and reliable?

If so, it's an odds-on bet that she will be again, but it will take time.

When overcoming grief, four months is not long - though it probably feels like a lifetime to you.

So you must make one steely-hearted decision right now: stop taking chances with your business. If one of her 'embarrassing omissions' turned out to be catastrophic, it would not only be bad news for you and all your other employees; it would also make it infinitely more difficult for confidence to be restored in the future.

I promise you: it's in her best interest as well as in yours to see that she's not exposed to this risk. So from now on, concentrate all your energy and imagination not on what to do but on how to do it.

If you know any members of her family, you must talk to one of them. They'll have noticed some changes as well - and are far more likely to be sympathetic and helpful if you put the position to them squarely.

Then talk to her. This time, don't dwell on her shortcomings: she'll only get tearful and defensive again. Tell her that you value her so much that you're moving her into a less-demanding job - on the same salary - until she's her old self again. Make it clear, in the gentlest possible way, that this decision is not open to negotiation.

I realise that this is an expensive suggestion but, if you really rate her, then it's surely worth it. If you don't, of course, you'll have to bite an even more distasteful bullet.


Q: One of my managers is a bit of a last-minuter and I worry that he covers up things he hasn't done and this could have a bad effect on my business. Do I challenge him and, if so, how? I don't want to undermine his authority with the rest of my staff or hassle him unnecessarily.

A: Why, I wonder, are you so diffident about this? If you have good reason to suspect him of serial incompetence, then you must certainly do something about it.

In fact, I bet I know the answer to my own question. I bet you pride yourself on running a really friendly, informal company. I bet you talk about family atmosphere and how all doors are open all the time and how it's up to people what hours they work as long as the job gets done. Well, some of this is fine, but it also means that you feel inhibited from having a perfectly reasonable word with your manager because it might seem a 'challenge'.

That's the trouble with folksy business cultures: they can all too easily deter leaders from exerting a bit of necessary discipline and encourage the chronically sloppy to carry on slopping. So if you haven't introduced a programme of regular performance reviews, you should do now.

If your entire staff knows that, say every six months, their performance is going to be formally assessed, then it's a great deal easier to be straight with them - while still maintaining a perfectly friendly atmosphere.

By applying the programme to everyone, and by making it regular, you can voice dissatisfaction early without it taking on quite such personal and disproportionate significance.

Your manager may not be quite as fond of you in the future but, if you can't live with that, you shouldn't be in charge.

Please address your problems to him at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP.

Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably no correspondence can be entered into.

How to: Q&A

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