The legal industry has always been the one to glorify the aspect of “the grind” or “overachieving”. But the previous years have presented a clear picture of how overachieving of tasks is taking a toll on mental health of employees. There have been signs that attorneys are reaching a breaking point, with lawyers quitting from jobs, and Athe profession all-together. Even in the upcoming year, we can expect more lawyers to “quietly quit” the legal industry.
The term “quiet quitting” refers to employees who put no more effort in their jobs than absolute necessary. It has become a viral topic in 2022. Initially, legal industry was immune from this phenomenon, but with changing working-patterns, 50-plus hour workweeks, in addition to the work stress which has increased in the past three years especially due to COVID-19, has taken their toll. An analysis performed by Bloomberg law revealed that the legal industry is surely going to change. In the upcoming year, we will certainly observe attorneys working less and engaging more in taking care of their mental and physical health.
Consider the following data collected by Bloomberg law.
To study and analyze the work-related experiences of attorneys, and their well-being, the survey collected data related to attorney workload and the hours which they put in work. At an overview, the survey asked respondents to report their average weekly hours worked for each quarter.
The survey has switched from quarterly fielding to semi-annual, changing some more subjective questions—including overall well-being and work-related issues—to a six-month reflection period for respondents.
Since Q1 2021, there had been a trend of in-house and law firm attorneys reporting working fewer hours per week—from an average of 53.5 hours per week in Q1 2021, to an average of 48.9 hours per week in Q2 2022, according to the surveys. the decrease in this hours-per-week is although a welcomed one, there are few points to consider here too.
Firstly, it is imperative to note that just because attorneys are spending less time working each week, this does not mean that they are being less productive. The reverse of this also stands true. Moreover, there are several consequences associated with overworking, amongst them is decreased productivity.
Legal profession has one of the highest rates, when it comes to substance abuse and burnouts. According to the responses to Bloomberg’s workload & hours survey, as mentioned above, most lawyers who said they increased their alcohol use in the first half of the year, also reported that their well-being is stagnant or declining. Due to the profession emphasising on long working hours rather than self-care, lawyers experience alcohol use disorders at a far higher rate than other professional populations.
Speaking about burnouts in the profession, the respondents said that they felt burnout in their jobs an average of 47% of the time in the previous six months from the date of survey.
Higher the number of working hours, the greater the likelihood is that they will experience work-related stressors and worsened well-being. A section in the survey talked about the work-related issues which attorneys can experience. The choices varied from anxiety, depression, increased substance use, none of the above and more. The answers revealed under this section provided an image that there lies a significant relationship among negative experiences and the average hours worked per week. With the number of hours per week increasing, the likeliness of reporting negative experiences also increases.
Considering the findings from the survey, attorneys who selected “None of these” issues, which comprised less than 20% of overall respondents for each survey, were reported working between 5.0 and 10.4 fewer hours per week than their colleagues who had at least one work-related issue. Notably, attorneys with no work-induced issues reported working no more than an average of 48.4 hours per week in the last six quarters. In contrast, those who identified with at least one issue have averaged working over 50 hours a week for five out of the last six quarters.
Moreover, the report also highlighted the overall well-being of the attorneys, ranging from significantly improved to worsened.
Much like work-induced issues, overall well-being was found to have a statistically significant relationship with average hours worked per week by attorneys. As hours worked per week increased, so did the likelihood that attorneys reported that their well-being had worsened—either slightly or significantly.
When the pandemic struck, most industry witnessed a setback in their working efficiency. Even the legal industry had to opt for changes to keep itself running. But even then, the sector did not suffer major setbacks, in comparison to other industries such as hospitality or tourism. With adoption in technology, working became more easier for attorneys. Handling massive data, compilation of files, recording testimonies or statements, and much more work was simplified. All these steps were undertaken by firms so that their employees can perform to their utmost efficiency. But such rapid change has not settled well with the employees. too much screen-time has taken toll on their mental health.
It is true that discussions surrounding mental health and well-being are happening, and some firms are even taking steps for their employees, but these little to no improvements are a clear proof that the industry has not been listening. The survey conducted by Bloomberg is to make legal employers realise the toxic pattern in the profession and to bring necessary changes in it.
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