Continued workplace tension and stress resulted in a suicide at Zurich Insurance Group, as CFO Pierre Wauthier took his life. According to a suicide note that was left behind, continued heated exchanges between chairman Josef Ackermann and Wauthier created an unbearable work environment. The suicide note was painfully clear in its indictment of Ackermann as the source of a pressure-cooker work environment. Ackermann, who is known for his career as a hard-changing investment banker prior to his work with Zurich, announced his resignation shortly after the events.
A review has been launched to investigate the alleged suicide, as coworkers and friends say there were no psychological or outward signs that Wauthier was in a dangerous state of mind. Aside from investigating the circumstances around Wauthier’s suicide, the financial office will be under scrutiny for the allegations of undue workplace pressures. In the past six months, Zurich’s shares have fallen almost 11 percent, as the greater European insurance index has risen 10 percent. For an insurance company as large as Zurich, the cultural and organizational implications could be drastic.
Ackermann’s announcement to retire shocked the company. Despite widespread requests to reconsider, Ackermann was steadfast in his decision to leave, fearing that staying could further erode company performance. No legal action has been taken against Ackermann, and there is currently no intent for future action.
Tips for Strategically Diffusing Workplace Tension
Wauthier’s suicide has sparked a greater global discussion about pressures in the workplace. While any successful work environment will naturally be subject to stress, there are strategic tactics that can diffuse needless conflict and tension. By ensuring that employees are happy, CFOs can ensure that they’re finance teams are more productive. But diffusing workplace tension isn’t exclusive to finance teams. The reality is that needless workplace tension can be alleviated anywhere.
- Address situations directly. The best course of action is to address a situation directly. This allows emotions to be released and prevents them from simmering and reaching a breaking point.
- Ask questions. Since communication is often the cause of disagreements or misunderstanding, asking questions can help both parties understand where the other is coming from.