Angharad Warren
Angharad Warren

Articles From the Team

Is my job making me ill?

Burnout is a real problem for solicitors in today’s legal world...

Throughout our years at university and college we are working towards a future where we have our dream job, plenty of money and a fantastic lifestyle. What we don’t think about is the pressures that our ‘dream job’ will mount on us and how to handle that. Many young lawyers feel the pressure to do well at work and in some firms the culture is to do long hours but need this be the case? There is a growing problem of lawyers burning out before the age of 30, don’t be one of them!

Research shows that working longer hours, doesn’t necessarily lead to better results. Mexico is one of the least productive countries in the developed world and has the world’s longest average work week at 41.2 hours. In comparison, Luxembourg, the most productive country, has an average work week of only 29 hours. What we need to be doing is working smarter and more productively in the hours available to us rather than spending hours doing overtime because the culture of our workplace expects or dictates it. Even Japan, a country recognised worldwide for producing workaholics now has a new initiative to encourage workers to leave the office at 3pm every last Friday of the month in a general push to crackdown on excessive working hours following the suicide of a worker where the cause of the suicide was found to be ‘death by overwork.’

As a solicitor, you probably have set chargeable hours and fee targets. Provided you are hitting these with high levels of productivity during the day, no employer should categorise you as someone who isn’t pulling their weight if you leave the office at 5.30pm. In fact, they should be commending you for what you are producing in the hours worked. Very often though it comes down to demands we put on ourselves to do everything and more rather than demands imposed by an employer.

Throughout both my legal career as a solicitor and my career as a legal recruitment consultant, I can honestly say that I have never found any direct correlation between the hours that people put in and the results they generate. Indeed, myself and a number of my colleagues here at BCL Legal work a four day week and given the pressure to cram a working week into four days, we all seem to produce very comparable results to our full time colleagues which just goes to show that it’s what you do during your working hours that counts and not how many hours you work.

With the advancement of technology and remote access to our work systems and e-mails wherever we are in the world, burnout is inevitably on the rise. France has recognised this and so introduced a law earlier this year barring work e-mails after hours. It is known as the workers’ ‘right to disconnect’ and requires companies with more than 50 employees to establish hours when staff should not send or answer emails with the aim of protecting employees’ private time. The French Legislator, Benoit Hamon, said that the legislation was in response to workers who ‘leave the office, but they do not leave their work. They remain attached by a kind of electronic leash – like a dog.’ I’m sure many of us can relate to that analogy. France is another highly productive country known for their long lunch breaks and relatively short working hours – a pattern is clearly emerging!

Holidays also vary widely from country to country; on average in the UK we get 28 days paid holiday a year. In comparison, France get 36 and Mexico just 13. I know plenty of people who don’t take all of their leave during the course of a year and lose holidays/carry them over regularly – this all contributes to burnout. We need to take a our holidays and it is advised by some companies that in order to benefit fully from your holidays you should take at least one period of at least two weeks to recharge fully.

If you are working at a firm that causes you to obsessively worry about your performance and future then perhaps it isn’t the right firm for you. In the long run overwork could have the unintended outcome of sabotaging your career, so make sure what you take on is manageable. If you would prefer to work a four day week (whether or not you have children) or leave the office early on certain days, these are all things that we at BCL Legal can negotiate into the terms of any new employment contract for you so be honest with us about what you need from a move at all times.

Exhaustion, stress, lack of motivation, frustration, cynicism and trouble concentrating are all signs that we are overworked so listen to your body and look after yourself. Most employers will be sympathetic if you are having troubles so be honest and open with them. There may be steps they can take to ease the pressures you are feeling. If you do feel overworked and having had these internal talks feel that your situation is unlikely to change then get in touch and we can have confidential discussion about your career and your options and how to better balance your life to make sure that you don’t burnout.

For a confidential discussion regarding your career, please contact Angharad Warren at BCL Legal. Angharad specialises in the placement of lawyers into Birmingham’s leading commercial firms.

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