The Lexinfo Practice Management Alert is a monthly newsletter which provides resources and information around topics such as time management, technology, human resources, leadership, client care, libraries, wellness and financial management. This blog post contains excerpts from articles in recent issues that focus on wellbeing.
The start of a new year usually prompts thoughts about how we can improve our lives, and during the current pandemic and all the lifestyle changes it has brought about, finding the elusive work-life balance has become a priority. We explore what this entails and provide tips and ideas from experts. We suggest resources for individuals and companies looking to support their staff and educate themselves on the road to good mental health and wellbeing.
What causes poor wellbeing in the legal workplace? The International Bar Association Panel (Source: https://www.ibanet.org/Article/NewDetail.aspx?ArticleUid=E9C95951-C6EE-465B-9433-267A305683D1) acknowledge that there is a ‘crisis in attorney wellbeing’ at present. The hierarchical nature and cultural norms of firms, for example ‘older lawyers preaching that the hard, intensive work is like a rite of passage’ dictate that the commitment to the employer is measured by billable hours. This also causes competition between colleagues, and added pressure to succeed. This has a negative impact on mental health, because it is difficult to make time for healthy eating and exercise to counteract the sedentary lifestyle.
Signs of poor mental health include: anxiety, stress, sleeping issues, impulsivity, feeling lonely, low self-esteem, fluctuating moods, feeling drained, sensitive or numb, irritability, fatigue, panic attacks and eventually, burnout. Research shows that stressed people will take 2-3 times longer to do tasks, and they are more prone to missing details. The IBA panel encouraged firms to begin implementing policies geared towards making wellbeing a priority. They suggest providing trainings, conferences, workshops, seminars, mentoring and counselling. Braving Boundaries (bravingboundaries.com) offer bespoke life coaching to individual legal professionals and law firms/corporates.
A new Acritas report (source: https://www.legalexecutiveinstitute.com/acritas-lawyer-wellbeing-report-2020/) also finds that junior lawyers are buckling under stress due to a large workload generated for them, and the demands of clients and partners. The report urges firms to take action around the 6 main drivers of wellbeing, namely: working intensively, time demands, strained relationships, managerial support, clarity and control, and consultation about change. ‘Lawyer wellbeing is crucial to law firm sustainability’.
Some tangible ways to show support are to enable employees to take their holidays and have sufficient breaks in the workday, and to encourage a life outside the firm. Employers can show social support by sending a care package (for example a voucher) to a colleague who is struggling.
The stigma around mental health in the workplace is also challenging. The dictionary definition of mental health is ‘a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.’ It seems to be an uncomfortable topic, and the person is easily perceived as ‘weak’. According to Frieda Levycky (of Braving Boundaries) and Alicia Koch in their article, ‘10 Tips for Lawyers who want to improve their mental health’ (https://www.golegal.co.za/lawyers-improve-mental-health/), it takes courage to admit that you are experiencing an issue.
Awareness of the body and mind's warning signs that stress is getting too high, empowers us to create a set of strategies, at home and at work, to alleviate the detrimental effects. It is becoming necessary to block off time in the calendar for self-care and relaxation/breathing exercises, to rejuvenate and reset in the modern, digital age. Read International Lawyers Network's 'Self care" isn't just a buzzword - it's good business' (https://www.jdsupra.com/legalnews/self-care-isn-t-just-a-buzzword-it-s-17758/).
Even small, incremental changes such as leaving the (home) office at lunchtime for a walk, making an effort to get better quality sleep and taking care that your schedule is not overloaded, will make a difference.
Let's make 2021a year of self-care!