Word Count: 995 words
Time to Read: 3-4 minutes
Legal work is a common source of unhappiness and stress. Studies have concluded that the number of burned-out, stressed-out or chronically stressed individuals is between one-fourth and one-third of the work force.
Lawyers and workers must be fully present and engaged at work, in a state of health and well-being. Problems at work are more strongly associated with health complaints than any other factor in people’s lives, even financial or family troubles.
While they may fail to realize the health implications, people at work are acutely aware of stress. A Northwestern National Life survey shows 40 percent of workers report their jobs are very or extremely stressful, and 25 percent of employees view their jobs as the top stressor in their lives.
Stress happens when:
The Costs of Stress
Stress depletes our physical, emotional and mental resources, which ultimately reduces law firm productivity and profits.
Healthcare costs for stressed workers are 46 percent higher. Total stress-related business costs (disability, death, insurance, medical expenses, accidents, loss of employees, sick leave and reduced/lost productivity) total between $250 billion and $300 billion annually in the United States.
When we are asked to sustain too great a load for too long a time, there’s an undeniable detrimental outcome. The legal profession is particularly at risk for putting themselves in highly charged environments, where expectations of surviving successfully are high and there are few timeouts for recuperation.
Saving Ourselves from Stress
There are four paths to counteracting stress and disease at work: two personal and two organizational, according to research in the book What Happy Companies Know, by Baker, Greenberg and Hemingway.
An individual’s or organization’s failure to take responsibility can quickly destroy a team. The organization must refrain from imposing unreasonable productivity requirements, and individuals must recognize their limits—a difficult prospect for high achievers.
A law firm can reduce stress by changing its corporate culture, including increased awareness of the value of appreciation and positive emotions.
Step One: Personal Mastery
Personal mastery of stress begins by recognizing that it’s a palpable force in the workplace—one for which we must proactively prepare. Of course, a certain amount of stress is the norm in business, but recognizing its signs and symptoms is essential for diminishing and controlling detrimental reactions.
Accepting a degree of chaos becomes part of the challenge. Instead of looking at change and uncertainty as a series of calamities, we can reframe these situations as exhilarating experiences that provide opportunities.
Step Two: Health and Well-Being Too many law firms purchase the health plans they can afford and then hope to maintain costs, without realizing that firm culture and individual responsibility have a dramatic impact on overall employee health and healthcare costs.
Achieving reductions in healthcare costs without employees’ buy-in is difficult, as many health issues are related to lifestyle. Obesity, smoking, lack of exercise, poor nutrition and an inability to manage stress are associated with 50 to 70 percent of all illness and medical problems.
Wellness programs provide structured efforts to improve employee lifestyles, and screenings before the onset of disease enhance health and reduce costs. But less than 5 percent of the $1.8 trillion that Americans spend on healthcare goes toward prevention, and even progressive organizations spend 80 times more on cure than prevention.
Law firms have a responsibility to reduce stress, but health packages are affordable and effective only when employees take responsibility for managing their own lives and bodies.
Step Three: Resilience
We can also reduce stress by inducing a positive mental state before or during stressful situations. We can learn techniques to refocus the mind before we succumb to stress, thereby reducing the time and energy needed to reestablish a calm, thoughtful state.
Studies show appreciation-generating techniques can reduce the production of cortisol (the stress hormone), lower blood pressure, improve hormonal balance and increase the body’s production of antibodies that fight pathogens.
Recognizing employee strengths and expressing appreciation are key stress-management components. Coaching and mentoring programs can help firms develop cultures that foster creativity, productivity and optimal performance.
Step Four: Firm Culture
An overwhelming number of firms are lackluster because they culturally replicate fear-based behaviors, reacting to events rather than driving toward a vision. An atmosphere of judgment and criticism prevails. These firms stifle human potential and behave in ways that lead to mediocre outcomes.
Successful firms are most often led by leaders concerned with the well-being of everyone who works in the organization. Research shows such firms have leaders who are humble, inclusive, inspirational and willing to demonstrate innovative/visionary leadership.
Human behaviors are notoriously difficult to change, but attitude and cultural adjustments are the only ways to differentiate yourself long term. To have a meaningful effect, leaders’ attitudinal changes must precede actual firm changes, which ultimately herald social and employee shifts from stress behaviors to positive performance.
It takes focus and tenacity to improve firm culture, instill attitudinal changes in positive thinking and routinely express appreciation. You must find a few actionable principles that truly make a difference and revolutionize workplace culture. You must take specific steps to drive these principles deep into the firm, at every level and into every behavior.
This is a tall order, which begins at the top.
The Healthy Road Ahead
Health-optimizing programs are needed to develop physical and psychological resilience.
The proper tools and techniques—relaxation therapies, cognitive therapies to teach optimism, strategies to find positive meaning in fundamental aspects of work—can help individuals reshape internal functioning mechanisms and achieve optimal emotional and psychological states.
Such programs cultivate a positive firm culture that can save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through stress reduction. Wolf Management Consultants understands this and offers the following customized program:
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