Recent news has highlighted the issue of occupational stress, also known as burnout, in the legal industry from the perspective of either person experiencing it, or someone trying to prevent it. Often mentioned as well is the cost to the firm in terms of lost productivity or the expense of recruitment and training of replacements. What is often overlooked is the full organizational impact of increasing burnout rates.
Ripple effects and the impact on management
People in law firms are not isolated from each other. They work together to accomplish goals, and when one link in the chain weakens, the chain can break, putting extra stress that might cause another link to break as a result. If this happens too much, the whole system start to break down.
The loss of one, or a few, associates or partners to burnout can be absorbed by the practice, but if it becomes too common, everyone feels the pain. With sharp increases in attorney burnout, firms need to consider that each additional burnout increases the likelihood of another one occurring as workloads get passed on, morale declines, and stress quickly increases—affecting everything in its path.
Management is not immune to this effect. Not only has there been a sharp increase in burnouts, for the last five or six years, senior partners and professional mangers alike have been beset with additional pressures that did not exist a decade ago. From DEI to expectations of mobility and remote work, the challenges facing firm management are measurably greater than they were a few short years ago. It is not reasonable to expect managers to handle an ever-increasing workload without some form of help.
Practical solutions to reducing burnout
There are some key factors in reducing burnout in the legal profession, such as balancing workloads. Attorneys report spending nearly 40 percent of their day on tasks other than practicing law. When most firms are pushing for more and more billable hours, there is a significant amount of time spent on activities not related to the bottom line.
Fortunately, there are turn-key solutions available to support legal firms. Community managers work to reduce feelings of isolation in remote workers. These programs focus on improving employee satisfaction using actionable data and voice of the customer feedback. Communication and engagement teams provide connectedness and a sense of community, and bespoke concierge services can make tough professional and personal workloads a lot easier to bear. The tools to mitigate the factors contributing to employee burnout can be deployed without requiring management to learn entirely new skillsets in an impossibly short period of time.
Firms have found that these types of services can address and improve feelings of being recognized, eliminate sources of stress, and improve not just the quantity, but the quality of work life balance for the whole team.
Preventing burnout from reaching a critical mass of cascading effects requires immediate and urgent attention. Partnering with an experienced workplace wellness provider is the path to preventing burnout and creating a thriving culture–without draining the lifeblood of managerial attention and resources from core business activities.