It seems that whether you’re part of an in-house legal team or independent counsel, lawyers and paralegals are always busy, maybe too busy. But busy is a good thing, right? As Philip Slayton wrote in his recent blog in Canadian Lawyer “It’s a point of pride for a legal professional. To be in demand is to be successful.” I mean, billable hours are where it’s at, right? Slayton goes on to say if “…you really are “very busy,” you are working 60 or 70 hours a week, week after week and it’s good work, serious work, for real clients who will pay the crazy huge bill that results. Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what you should be doing?”
“No, it’s not. Working [too] hard is bad for you. Really bad.”
The Burnout Bandwagon
None the less, working long hours has become the rule rather than the exception throughout corporate America. According to a recent Gallup pole published in the Washington Post, 50% of full time workers work more than 40 hours per week, with 39% working 50+ hours per week. So, is it any wonder that employees are burning out faster than ever before? A recent study performed by the Workforce Institute in conjunction with Future Workplace found that
“…95 percent of human resource leaders say that employee burnout is sabotaging their workforce.”
As Slayton indicates “The literature is clear: Overwork, generally defined as consistently working more than 40 hours a week, leads to chronic stress and anxiety, substance abuse, sleep disorders, a weakened immune system, depression, weight gain, hypertension, heart disease, chronic fatigue and diabetes. Also — a consequence not to be overlooked — working too hard can kill you. The Japanese have a word for it — “karoshi.” A recent study found that in 2012 more than 800 Japanese families were compensated by insurance companies for “karoshi deaths.””
Lawyers and legal teams are no exception. Simply Google “Lawyer Burnout” and you’ll find dozens of articles, blogs, and research devoted to this endemic issue. Kate Mayer Mangan in her article on Law Practice Today notes that not only is it bad for the lawyer, but the resulting quality of work can impact clients as well. And, says Mangan,
“Lawyers may be especially prone to burning out because of the combination of our personalities, training, and job duties. We’re an intense, skeptical lot, trained to be cynical, and we spend our days dealing with difficult problems.”
The law of diminishing returns
There’s only so much juice in the orange, as the saying goes. Even workplace rock stars need time to recharge. In fact, time off actually helps you be more productive. Conversely, overwork can lead to spending more hours getting less and less done. Slayton notes that “…a 2015 article in the Harvard Business Review said
“…the story of overwork is literally a story of diminishing returns: keep overworking, and you’ll progressively work more stupidly on tasks that are increasingly meaningless.”
So, how do you prevent burn out?
An enlightening article by Forbes suggests some great organizational initiative ideas such as acknowledging and measuring the problem, improved leadership, better job resources, minimizing conflict, ambiguity, and constraints, and promoting better work-life integration or balance. A recent study by Deloitte suggests a combination of smaller, agile teams, simplifying HR practices, off-loading more administrative “busywork” tasks to allow focus on more value added activities, and changing work expectations. The conclusion? –
“companies need to recognize that the overwhelmed, hyper-connected employee is a business concern. The opportunity for business and HR leaders is to find ways to make information easier to find, simplify processes and systems, keep teams small and make sure leaders provide focus”
At AST, we don’t have control over how demanding your clients are, interoffice conflict, or what your vacation time allotment is. We can, however, help reduce busywork by streamlining, simplifying, and automating some of your in-house legal processes and by providing a central location where NDA and contract information is as easy to find as a click of a button.
Click here if you’d like to learn more about our Adaptive NDA solution and how we might be able to help lighten your load. Perhaps a famous philosopher once said “That which you can automate makes you stronger.”? Or, something along those lines, anyway.