Wellbeing initiatives, developed with expert support, critical to long-term business success
A recent survey into the health and wellbeing of legal professionals in the UK has sent shockwaves across the country’s legal firms. Commissioned by legal mental health charity, LawCare, the study investigated a wide range of areas including levels of mental ill-health, workloads and the degree to which professionals felt in control of their careers. Over 1,700 legal professionals, aged 18 to 75 years old, working in a range of roles participated in the survey making it one of the most comprehensive reports into wellbeing since the pandemic.
The results of the survey revealed alarming levels of burnout among professionals. 69% of survey respondents had experienced mental ill-health in the previous 12 months. Over 60% experienced anxiety either often, very often or all of the time as a direct result of their work. However, 43.5% said they had not disclosed their mental ill-health at work with many fearful of consequences. One anonymous solicitor commented “Don’t want to look like I cannot cope with the workload”. This leaves a large number of professionals suffering in silence whilst continuing to work in fast-paced and demanding client-facing roles.
Legal professionals under strain and left to deal with issues alone
The data revealed the major predictors of poor mental health and burnout were overwork, the increased complexity of work, insufficient practical support and guidance and confusing, ambiguous and conflicting communications.
Professionals who reported that they had low level autonomy at work, felt unable to speak up at work, and those who worked long hours with an intense workload, reported the highest levels of burnout.
These findings, whilst reflecting poorly on existing working practices in the legal sector, do provide evidence that a shift in work culture and working practices can mitigate some of the root causes of poor mental health and contribute to a stronger legal sector in the long term.
Leaders to recognise responsibility for health and wellbeing in the workplace and invest in robust programmes
Few legal firms have the internal expertise to navigate complex wellbeing issues in the workplace. Effective interventions to promote and protect mental health in the workplace require specialists from a range of fields including technology.
Overuse of technology and the blurring of boundaries between home and work life with the availability of technology is a key contributor to burnout. 28% of research participants either agreed or strongly agreed that their work required them to be available to clients 24/7 and a staggering 65% said they checked emails outside of work hours to keep up with their workload.
Stephanie Henson, the founder of techtimeout, has been working with law firms since the start of the pandemic to help businesses address the accelerated use of technology in the sector. Technology has undoubtedly played a key role in enabling law firms to continue offering their services throughout the pandemic but as she explains it has contributed to the burnout that is sweeping the sector.
“We all rely on technology to do our jobs and in many cases it has transformed many processes. However, we've all experienced that feeling of overwhelm caused by an overflowing email inbox, constant notifications and an ever growing to-do list,” explains Stephanie. “The constant bombardment of tech, as this research highlights, can hugely impact productivity, teamwork and wellbeing. It is important that you give your employees the tools and know-how they need to deal with the distractions of smartphones, internet, and multiple emails for a more productive and happier workforce.”
techtimeout is an approved accredited supplier to LawNet, the collaborative, mutually-owned national network of independent law firms. The accreditation provides LawNet's network with discounted access to workplace programmes, tools and resources to help their members encourage their teams to have a healthier relationship with their technology.
Commit to dousing the flames of burnout today to build a stronger tomorrow
Thanks to LawCare’s most recent survey, anecdotal evidence of increasing burnout in the legal sector has now been qualified through the collation of both quantitative and qualitative data in a robust and methodical way. It has shown that working practices that undermine mental health need to change and that they need to change quickly. Improving mental wellbeing is every leader’s responsibility and it must be placed centre stage in the new post-pandemic normal.
It is now the collective responsibility of every legal firm in the country to use this data to drive long lasting cultural change in workplaces that will benefit both the present and future generations of legal professionals. Failure to do so is likely to impede its future growth and success.