Working in a high-pressure and fast-paced profession like the law can be mentally challenging. In Realm’s 2023 wellbeing research, we found that sadly, 83% of lawyers have experienced burnout or often feel stress in their jobs.
In comparison to stress which normally happens in short bursts, burnout is a chronic and longer-lasting response to stressful situations. Burnout can cause sufferers to feel tired, unenthused and short-tempered; they might also find it difficult to complete tasks they would usually find easy.
Even if you’re not struggling at the moment, there are several things you can do to look after your wellbeing at work and reduce your risk of burnout.
Identify your stressors
One of the most important steps towards preventing stress at work is recognising what it is that causes you to feel overwhelmed. For instance, is it your relentless workload, a poor work-life balance, constant messages from a colleague or your working environment?
Once you have identified what is it that makes you feel stressed in the first place, you can think about how to tackle these things. Would a conversation with your line manager be helpful to discuss your caseload? Perhaps your at-home office set-up is cluttered or noisy and so isn’t conducive to good workplace wellbeing?
Turn off notifications
Responding to constant emails, messages and updates on Microsoft Teams, Outlook or Google Chat throughout the day can be overwhelming.
Most of the time, messages or emails don’t require an instant response; if something is urgent, you’ll likely get a phone call. Mute or “snooze” your alerts and only check messages and emails at certain times of the day.
Set boundaries between your work and home life by making sure your notifications are turned off outside office hours. This is especially important to do on your phone so you aren’t disturbed in the evening or overnight.
Set clear boundaries
During the COVID pandemic when so many of us were working from home full-time, the boundaries between work and home life became blurred. Now, with most of us spending at least part of the week in the office, the commute home from the office allows us the opportunity to unwind from work, leave the associated stresses and mental worries behind, and get into ‘home mode’.
On days when you’re working from home, you might not have this clear separation, however, there are other ways to signal to your brain that the workday is over. Going for a walk, hitting the gym or cooking dinner will help you to decompress and recharge.
Try not to multi-task
When you’ve got a lot of work to do, it can be tempting to multi-task to get everything done sooner. However, although multi-tasking can give the illusion of productivity, it can do more harm than good.
Studies have shown that people who split their attention between tasks perform worse and are more likely to experience stress than those who concentrate on one thing.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, do your best to focus on one task at a time. It’s also a good idea to be realistic about your to-do list. Each day, try and identify what you’re not going to achieve so you can focus on the tasks you’re going to be able to complete.
Make sure you’re with a firm that supports your wellbeing
Law firms are certainly doing more than ever before when it comes to investing in employee wellbeing. Firms that have an open and supportive culture and normalise speaking out about poor mental health, are going to have happier, more engaged and more productive lawyers. If your firm doesn’t have a culture that prioritises wellbeing, it might be worth thinking about if you might be happy elsewhere, particularly if you’re already struggling.
Even if the culture is, on the face of it, a supportive one, it still might not be right for you. A poor cultural fit is likely to have an impact on your satisfaction at work and ultimately affect your wellbeing, potentially making you more susceptible to stress and even burnout.
Assess your work-life balance
If a lack of flexibility is causing you to struggle, you’re not alone. In our research, 42% of the lawyer we spoke to said saying a lack of work/life balance was a primary stressor for them and 80% said flexibility would be important to them if they were to look for a new role. If you have raised this as a concern and your firm is unwilling to budge on their position on home working (some firms still expect their lawyers to be in the office 5 days a week), it might be worth considering you would be happier at a firm that allows you a greater work-life balance.
Find someone you can confide in
If you are finding things tough, it’s important to talk. Whether that be your manager, colleague, or a friend, or family member, make sure there’s someone you can open up to.
If you don’t feel comfortable confiding with someone at work, organisations like LawCare and Manchester Mind provide confidential support over the phone or by email to people who are struggling.
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.