Of all the workplace mental health buzzwords in the headlines today, burnout is among the most nebulous. It’s not a medical term, like anxiety or depression, instead falling under the heading of “I know it when I see it.”
And Australians are seeing it. A worldwide survey has found that Australians had one of the highest rates of burnout of any country in 2020. The study, which analysed white-collar workers and how they coped with working from home last year, found that almost four in five Australians suffered burnout (77%, in fact) 6% above the global average. Among the more than two thousand Australians who were surveyed, almost half said they worked nearly twice as many late hours as the previous year.
So how can legal professionals identify burnout in your lives and among your employees, and how can you combat this seemingly ubiquitous problem?
How to check for burnout:
Burnout can be a smaller symptom of overall depression, or stand alone as a result of isolation, overwork or outside factors like family conflicts. But no matter the cause, the first step to combating burnout is identifying it. The Mayo Clinic has compiled this helpful list of questions to answer or share with your team:
- Have you become cynical or critical at work?
- Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
- Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients?
- Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
- Do you find it hard to concentrate?
- Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
- Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
- Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach problems, or other physical complaints?
Answering“yes” to any one of these questions may indicate burnout. Beyond the toll these feelings take on lawyers’ physical health, ability to effectively advocate for clients and personal relationships, burnout can send even the best employee running for the door.
What other companies are doing:
As The Great Resignation, as this current mass job exodus has been coined, continues, corporate companies are not just sitting back and watching. Giant, never-closed organisations, including LinkedIn, Twitch, Bumble and Intuit, have shuttered their doors for week-long breaks this year. Other burnout-combatting tactics have included banning meetings during certain hours, Zoom-free Fridays, additional mental health days and blocking email on weekends.
What to do at your own law firm:
What works for large corporate companies isn’t always realistic in the legal world; can you imagine your entire law firm shutting down for a week? Still, something must be done to combat legal burnout to avoid a mass exodus.
The legal profession has experienced an increase in open positions in the past year, and such vacancies result in an increased workload — and increased burnout — among those who do remain at the firm.
Create and promote a safe space for conversation about burnout.
Simply listening to your team is the first step toward a healthier workplace. If lawyers leave because of burnout, it doesn’t solve anything; burnout just follows them to their next firm (which could be yours). Request and implement suggestions that work for the needs of your employees and firm, like no-call/email/text hours or monthly "wellness days”.
Set (and re-set) clear expectations.
Shifting workloads, client expectations and emotional capacity to complete tasks can create chaos without straightforward tools and communication. Smokeball Workflows let you assign and adjust to-do Tasks throughout your firm. If one person needs a lighter load, it’s easy to prioritise and re-set deadlines, shift tasks and remain productive without shame or blame.
Bill more accurately to increase revenue without increasing workloads.
By automatically tracking every minute spent in Microsoft Word and Outlook, among other systems you’re already using, Smokeball legal software immediately doubles your billed hours. You’ll decrease the need for additional support staff and free up hours for employees to spend recharging or completing fulfilling tasks instead of manually billing their time.