How to Prevent Employee Burnout in the Legal Sector

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When it comes to wellbeing, not all industries are created equal. In high pressure sectors it can be incredibly challenging to strike the right balance between productivity and burnout – but if you want to keep your people happy and healthy, strike it you must.

Law professionals are amongst the most overworked and stressed out employees in the workforce today; not all, of course, but enough to warrant the formation of an Institute for Wellbeing in Law over in the US, and the creation of employee wellbeing focused firms like Thrive Law here in the UK. 

In some law firms, busyness is worn as a badge of honour, and working through the night is seen as the norm. But overworking your people is entirely counterproductive: as well as the obvious impact on energy levels and mental clarity, an excess of stress at work can lead to employee burnout and mental health problems. 

But why is employee mental health such a cause for concern?


The real impact of stress in the legal sector


Last year, ALM’s 2020 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey found that 31% of lawyers felt depressed, 64% experienced anxiety, 10% reported an alcohol problem, and 3% felt they had a drug problem; worse still, 35% of survey respondents didn’t know whether their firms offered any mental health support. 

Furthermore, insurance firm Protectivity ran a survey back in 2019 which found that 63% of respondents active in the UK legal industry were reporting stress on a daily basis. And the problem starts early on: the Law Society Junior Lawyers Division’s (JLD) annual resilience and wellbeing report revealed that one in 15 junior lawyers have experienced suicidal thoughts, while a 2014 survey of Yale Law School students found that 70% struggled with mental health issues during their time at law school.

Lawyers also tend to work far longer hours than many other professions, which makes their risk of burnout all the higher. The 2018 Legal Trends Report found that 75% of lawyers frequently work outside of regular business hours; the report also found that, on average, lawyers work an astonishing 140 unplanned hours each year.

It’s clear that all too many people in the legal profession are working when they really ought to be resting. 


The high cost of presenteeism


  • 300,000 people with a long-term mental health problem lose their jobs each year;

  • Presenteeism is rife in high pressure industries. 

If your people are at work when they shouldn’t be, you have a problem with presenteeism.

The very basis of a healthy workplace is knowing that you can take time off when you need to – whether you’re physically ill, or mentally. And stress absolutely falls into that category. The trouble is, employees can get so used to feeling stressed that they might not even recognise it as a problem, but with overly high levels of stress leading to a whole range of serious health concerns, stress is a perfectly valid reason for needing time out.

We know from experience – and science-backed research – that where mental wellbeing is concerned, prevention is far better (and loss costly) than cure. Looking after your workers makes sound business sense; far more so than creating a culture of pressure and fear, because you’ll never get the best out of your people if they can’t recharge when they need to.

In fact, one of the best ways to prevent burnout is to encourage your people to monitor and prioritise their own wellbeing: give them flexible working options; actively discourage round-the-clock working; talk openly about the stresses and strains of the legal profession; check in on their mental health; make sure they’re taking regular annual leave; ask them if they feel overworked; encourage them to speak out when they need help.

In other words, be a decent employer.


How to proactively support your people


In industries such as law, where pressures are high and downtime is low, workplace mental health training is a great place to start. Carrying out a risk assessment will help you to pinpoint where in the business you might need to make improvements, and the areas where your people need the most support. 

In addition to mental health training – which is all about raising awareness and equipping people with coping strategies – any law firm worth its salt needs a strong workplace wellbeing strategy in place. Preferably one that can conduct that all-important initial assessment, provide accurate and insightful feedback, offer science-backed solutions, and monitor progress over time. 

Not to get too salesy in a blog that’s all about giving you actionable advice, but the BetterSpace platform is popular with law firms, like valued client Linklaters, because it does precisely that. It also puts employees in the driving seat by letting them choose the resources that speak to them – and that’s really important for busy, stressed out people.

If one of your workers is struggling with insomnia (a common complaint among lawyers), they’re going to want tools for better sleep, over and above a discounted gym membership. If another member of your team feels their life is too work-heavy, they want quick and easy access to resources that will help them to put more meaningful activity into their days. Choice, in this case, is king.

You might also want to consider setting up peer support. Mental health ambassadors and mental health first-aiders don’t work for every organisation, but they can act as a useful point of contact when a company is trying to create a more open culture around employee mental health and workplace wellbeing. 

The bottom line? Overworking your people to the point of burnout never made good business sense. To find out how we can help you to better manage employee wellbeing in your law firm, book a free demo or get in touch today.


ABOUT BETTERSPACE

BetterSpace is the employee wellbeing platform putting control where it belongs: in the hands of the individual employee. Our groundbreaking solution has been developed with medical and domain expertise and is aligned to our Six Pillars of Wellbeing. BetterSpace empowers your workforce to understand and fulfill their mental health needs. 

This approach has achieved engagement rates of 94%, compared to the average usage rate of 2-18% for Employee Assistance Programmes and 10-40% for points solutions.

Want to know more? Schedule a product demonstration with us today.

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