Sadly, working in the legal sector, traditionally characterised by long hours and punishing caseloads, can be stressful. In our 2023 wellbeing research, nearly two-thirds of lawyers reported that they’d experienced burnout in the last 12 months, with a further 21% saying they often feel stressed at work.
When people have positive mental health, they’re more likely to be committed to their work, more motivated and energised. There’s undoubtedly a correlation between good mental health and employee satisfaction, engagement and productivity, so it makes good business sense for law firms to look after the mental health of their staff.
Many law firms have taken steps to improve staff wellbeing by investing in measures such as subsidised access to a counsellor or gym memberships. However, addressing the most common root causes of workplace stress (unrealistic caseloads, flexible working policies and poor pay) is likely to have more impact, especially in the current cost of living crisis.
Here are eight ways you can make work less stressful for your team members.
Keep an eye on caseloads
An unmanageable caseload was the most common stressor for lawyers, with 57% of lawyers citing their workload as a primary cause of their stress at work. Keeping an eye on the caseloads of your employees, to check for overcapacity, will ensure that they aren’t overworked which will have a big impact on their overall wellbeing.
What’s more, in our 2022 state-of-the-market research, nine out of ten lawyers told us that a more manageable caseload would be a top priority for them if they were to look for a new role. Ensuring that your lawyers aren’t overburdened with their work is therefore not only important to make sure that your current team is happy but will help you to attract and recruit talent in the future.
Invest in your team’s development
Even if they’re not quite ready for a promotion, try to continually provide your team with steady growth and learning opportunities so they can develop new skills and feel like they’re improving in their roles. Take the time to schedule regular one-to-ones with your lawyers, where you can discuss what their goals are (both professionally and personally) so that you have a good sense of what drives them and what they’d like to achieve.
Investing in their development in this way will not only deepen the sense of trust between you and them but will improve their workplace wellbeing.
Pay properly and be transparent
Poor or unfair pay is another common stressor amongst lawyers and this has no doubt been exacerbated by the current cost of living crisis. It’s more important than ever to pay your lawyers properly, to reduce money worries and ensure that these aren’t impacting their wellbeing. To help you better understand where your team’s salaries sit compared to the rest of the market and why variations in pay may exist, we have developed our practice-area salary guides.
It’s also important to be transparent. Openly sharing pay grading structures and progression paths will empower employees with the knowledge they need to properly understand where they’re at and where they should (and could) be in terms of their position and pay, boosting their engagement (and wellbeing) at work.
Set clear boundaries between work and home life
In the last few years, remote working tools like Office365 and Microsoft Teams have made it easier than ever to keep in touch with colleagues while at home or outside working hours, but this blurring of work time and personal time can be a significant source of workplace stress.
As a manager, it is important that you set clear guidelines around when your team should and shouldn’t be available. Leading by example on this front, for instance, not sending non-urgent emails or making calls outside of work time will help to instil this as part of your team culture and reduce the stress of your team.
Encourage regular time off and breaks
Taking regular holidays and time off work can really benefit health and wellbeing, by allowing individuals the chance to rest and recharge and come back refreshed and focused. Although most of us are aware that scheduling time off is important, many people don’t use their full holiday allowance.
Make sure your team take the breaks they need (and deserve) by reassuring your team members that they shouldn’t feel bad about taking leave and model good behaviour by regularly taking annual leave yourself. It’s also important to put in place plans for reassigning work while people are on holiday to help ease any worry they might have about coming back to an increased workload.
Regular breaks throughout the working day are also important and can help reduce or prevent stress. Breaks also help to maintain performance, increase energy levels and boost productivity. The human brain can focus for around 90-120 minutes before it needs to rest. Encourage your lawyers to step away from their desks, take a short walk and mentally disengage from challenging tasks every couple of hours so they have the mental space they need to perform well consistently.
Embrace flexible working
Having control over when and where you work has a positive impact on your wellbeing; conversely, a lack of work-life balance can lead to stress at work. In our wellbeing research, 42% of lawyers told us it was a primary stressor for them. Although law firms, on average, now offer three days home working per week, many offer less than this or have resisted remote working altogether.
Creating an adaptive work environment by allowing your lawyers to work flexible hours and from home for part of the week will undoubtedly help to reduce stress within your team.
What’s more, by embracing flexible working, you’ll make sure that your team members can continue to succeed at work no matter who they are and what responsibilities they might have away from the office.
Cultivate a rewarding culture
According to research from Deloitte, three in ten people who had experienced workplace burnout cited a “lack of support or recognition from leadership” as a contributing factor to their poor mental health. Publicly recognising the hard work and contributions of your lawyers will help to reduce feelings of stress and make individuals feel more connected to the rest of the team, their roles and the business more generally.
Implementing things like Employee of the Month or celebrating the effort and achievements of individuals through regular team-wide emails will help to cultivate a rewarding culture where employees feel valued.
Normalise the conversation around wellbeing
Wellbeing has become a bit of a buzzword, but it’s important to normalise it as part of everyday conversations in your office and make it part of your culture. Your lawyers should feel comfortable and empowered to speak out to a colleague or their manager if they are struggling.
Encourage your managers to talk openly if something has impacted their wellbeing or caused them stress and share with their team what they did to deal with this. Leading by example will make your team members understand that it’s okay not to be okay and will hopefully influence them to share their own challenges so that they can be addressed.
Attend our free wellbeing event
As part of Stress Awareness Month 2023, we’re holding a short webinar with Simona Hamblet, a mind coach for lawyers. Simona will be giving her advice on tackling issues such as anxiety, work-life balance and imposter syndrome. The event is free to attend and we’d welcome any legal professionals or firms to sign up here.