Healthy Workplaces: Would Your Law Firm Pass A Stress Test?

Yesterday, the Federal Reserved told JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs that they didn’t survive their “stress test”.

In an attempt to perform due diligence on the ability of our country’s largest 18 banks to cope with a severe economic recession, the Fed ran some tests. And, after the blood work came back, the Fed told each bank whether or not it was allowed to raise its dividend, how much it could give its stockholders in a quarterly payout, or if it could buy back more of its own shares, reports The News Tribune.

Basically, the Fed told these two top-tier banks to shape up by September, or ship out.

But, banks aren’t the only ones to worry about their health these days.

Lawyers are stressed. There’s no need to run any treadmill tests to know that law firm employees are plagued with high billable hours, high-stakes, and high stress.

Not surprisingly, emotional exhaustion has been linked with lawyer burnout.

In a study of public service lawyers, emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and feelings of low personal accomplishment were qll highly correlated with lawyer burnout, according to authors Susan Jackson, Jon Turner, and Arthur Brief for the article “Correlates of burnout among public service lawyers” in the Journal of Organizational Behavior,

Many would argue that the long hours of lawyers—much like investment banks—are to blame.

Surprisingly, however, another study found that work hours and stress were not highly correlated among lawyers. In fact, although feelings that legal work was invading nonwork life were prevalent among attorneys, this feeling was not shown to be associated with the number of hours worked.

Jean Wallace in the article “It’s about Time: A Study of Hours Worked and Work Spillover among Law Firm Lawyers” for the Journal of Vocational Behavior (1997) believes that while work hours may not be to blame for feeling overwhelmed, it’s still important to find the cause.

It’s easy to imagine that stress is more likely a result of household composition (young children) or workplace conflict, more so than pure length of office hours.

Nevertheless, stress plays a role in our attitude at home and at work. And, it impacts how individuals interact.

A new study shows that stressed men, in particular, have diminished activity in the area of the brain responsible for sympathizing or understanding others’ feelings, reports Rick Nauert, PhD, for PsychCentral

Thus, stress doesn’t just affect the person in question feeling that emotion, but also his colleagues in proximity.

As a law firm manager, what can you do to alleviate workplace stress?

1. Provide professional stress management services.

Whether it’s better healthcare coverage for counseling or stress-management classes, provide professional services for your employees. Make sure these services are not stigmatized and ensure they remain confidential.

2. Be a positive force in the office

Stress is an overwhelming emotion. But, it’s also a contagious one. If you’re feeling stressed, take a moment out of the office or, at least, close your office door. Take some privacy so that the feeling passes as opposed to spreads.

Attitudes are contagious. Do your part to stifle negativity and reinforce positivity.

3. Exercise

There are a myriad of benefits to exercise. Besides a healthy heart, exercise boosts healthy attitudes and is a stress suppressant. Encourage employees to go to the gym by offering “exercise hour” at lunch, discounts to local gyms, or installing a workout room in the office building.

Conduct “bike to work” days and organize sports teams for both men and women at work.

A little bit of running can go a long way to running a happy office place.

4. Be tolerant

It goes without saying that professionals should never yell or snap at fellow employees. As a manager, if it happens, don’t hesitate to discipline your subordinates.

At the same time, be observant. Is a particular employee acting out? Have you noticed there’s a law firm professional that nobody wants to work with? It’s possible that one of your employees is particularly stressed.

If so, find out why. Whether it’s personal or professional, problems are more easily addressed by two people than by one.

Lead by example—that includes being compassionate and tolerant of others. So, find out who is suffering from stress and offer a helping hand. Stress turns into an epidemic. Left untreated and untested, you may find your workplace productivity—in addition to morale—left for dead.

-WB

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