Heavy workloads, tight deadlines, and certain character traits prevalent among lawyers and paralegals - namely perfectionism - all work together to make law offices places of stress, anxiety, and burnout.
What is the Impact of Stress in the Office?
Stress in the office can have a number of impacts on all in the practice, from the head partner to the receptionist. Here are some of the more obvious concerns:
- Stress can lead to negative interactions between employees. When people are stressed, they start to get snippy with each other.
- Depression and anxiety are also common among lawyers and people who work in law offices.
- Stress can lead to a decrease in performance and an increase in mistakes. This also tends to increase absenteeism and tardiness.
- Retention also drops, meaning that a skilled paralegal may vanish as soon as they find a job elsewhere. This increases training costs and lowers efficiency.
- Sooner or later the problem will become apparent to clients. The tension becomes difficult to hide and many people would prefer to be a client of a firm where everyone appears happy to be there. Or, worse, a stressed out employee may take it out, even subconsciously, on a client.
What can Law Offices Do?
Because of this, it's important that law offices do what they can to foster a more positive work environment. Law offices have some unique challenges that need to be addressed, including the fact that lawyers are seldom trained to cope with stress in a healthy way, the personality traits mentioned above, and the fast-paced environment. Try incorporating some of the following tips into your legal practice:
- Make sure people are not afraid to take time off. Lawyers have historically had poor work-life balance, and this is often passed on to legal secretaries and similar. Offering the option to work from home can help people keep a good balance. Particularly encourage a bit of time off right after a hugely stressful case.
- Mitigate the natural hierarchy of a law firm by discouraging partners from placing themselves above everyone at a personal rather than professional level. A good law firm avoids the sense of resentment that can come from people throwing their weight around.
- Have a system for annual reviews that helps everyone stay aligned with the firm's goals, rather than coming over as 'judgment' on their performance.
- Set clear goals for the firm so you all know what you are aiming for.
What Else can You Do?
There are also a number of things that any office can do to promote a better workplace environment.
- Promote a good physical environment. Make sure the office is clean, as free of clutter as possible, and if you redecorate consider how to use colour theory to build an environment. Talk to employees about any redecoration and find out if there is a consensus on colour scheme or other things which might be needed. Set up workstations in a way that is ergonomically correct. Improve natural light as much as possible.
- Encourage healthy practices among employees including sufficient sleep, healthy diet, exercise, and meditation or similar practices.
- Encourage people to take their breaks.
- Consider, when privacy concerns allow, having some walking meetings instead of traditional sit down meetings.
- Allow people to bring their pets to work, as long as they are well-behaved. An 'office mascot' can do wonders on everyone's stress levels.
Creating a more positive environment allows everyone to achieve their best work, improves productivity and results, and keeps people healthy. You should consider how to improve the work environment in your office, even if you think it is already pretty good.