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How to... achieve balance

How to... achieve balance

Long hours, faded hobbies, average health... resignation. Lisa Gazis at Mahlab Recruitment explains how to avoid the common fate of an overworked lawyer.

Long hours, faded hobbies, average health... resignation. Lisa Gazis at Mahlab Recruitment explains how to avoid the common fate of an overworked lawyer.

A lawyer I know was working consistently long and unsustainable hours. The hours were impacting her home life, her hobbies faded and her health was affected. The employer continued to throw work her way because they liked her work and she delivered. The lawyer then worked it out. She resigned and moved to an organisation which promoted a flexible work environment.

She didn’t bother talking to her firm about the long hours before resigning.  For her, the trust was lost. I have to wonder though, what the outcome would have been if she had talked them about how she felt. 

The pressure to be client focussed, or to deliver legal services in tight timeframes means lawyers work long and unpredictable hours affecting home time.  Technology including email, computers, Skype and smart phones has also blurred the lines between one’s work and personal life.  Lawyers who are not willing to “be there until the job is done” are often considered to be not as committed. Promotional prospects can be affected.

My issue with this high pressure attitude is that we all need time out; to relax, to be involved in the lives of our family and friends, to have hobbies and interests – that is, to have a multidimensional life.

Employers recognise that, in order to attract and retain the best legal talent and to create a happier and healthier environment they need to be able to provide workforce flexibility. Long, unsustainable hours affect health, absenteeism and productivity. 

The best firms work to address the problem by supporting lawyers to achieve a balance.  They create a culture which supports staff needs and trusts employees when they do work flexibly.  Paid parental leave, part-time, casual work and, in some cases telecommuting, leave without pay, opportunities to purchase additional leave, compulsory leave, strict maximum hours, half day’s on Friday during summer are all ways of offering flexibility.

Many employers regularly seek feedback from staff to determine if they are achieving balance.  They also conduct surveys to determine whether lawyers enjoy their work, feel a sense of achievement, have “additional” work responsibilities, what their typical working hours, commuting time and, time spent outside the office, to better understand their lawyers’ stresses.

Lawyers, however, also have a responsibility to achieve the right balance between work and home.  They need to manage their time, speak up and take action. The onus is on your employer to create a culture and environment that supports and encourages work/life balance if they wish to retain you.  But, it is your responsibility to manage your career and life.  Try talking to your firm about how the hours are affecting you.  If nothing changes and it gets untenable, as it did for the lawyer in my story, then draw the line and say enough is enough.

Lisa Gazis is the Managing Director of Mahlab Recruitment (NSW). 

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