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Burnout by LawCare

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Most lawyers would say that they experience stress on a fairly regular basis.  Our stress response is designed to be used in short bursts of up to 30-minutes, to escape a threat to survival. A boost of cortisol, adrenalin and noradrenalin gets our heart racing and blood pumping enabling us to make a speedy getaway from a wild animal chasing us, for example. These days, a wild animal has been replaced by a bullying boss, a difficult client, a competitive colleague but our stress response is the same. And because these threats tend to be ongoing, many of us are existing in a near constant state of stress, which can lead to burnout.

Burnout is recognised by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon rather that a medical condition, and results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

Recognising burnout

Those who are experiencing burn out are likely to feel:

  • Low energy or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from their job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism related to their job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

Lawyers with burnout may feel angry or irritated by colleagues or feel misunderstood. They will feel under a lot of pressure to do well at work but will feel like they aren’t really getting anywhere as they find it impossible to focus, feel overwhelmed by the amount of the work they have to do and procrastinate. They will often become forgetful - perhaps missing deadlines or meetings.  Their judgement may be affected and they will often think of leaving their job or even the law profession entirely.

I think I may have burnout, what can I do?

  • Talk informally to someone you trust or contact LawCare on 0800 279 6888, support@lawcare.org.uk or via lawcare.org.uk
  • Make an appointment to see your GP.
  • Tell someone at work about what is happening, it doesn’t have to be your line manager, someone in HR, another manager or Mental Heath First Aider or equivalent can help.
  • Take a break from work if you can – either take sick leave or book a few days off work as holiday.
  • You may want to seek private counselling or your firm may have an Employee Assistance Programme or private healthcare you can access.

Ways to avoid burnout

  • Try to be objective about what is causing you stress. Keeping a stress diary over 2-3 weeks may help.
  • Prioritise: don’t over commit; learn to say no. Lose some things from your diary.
  • Use your full holiday entitlement at work; take a lunch break and short breaks during the day.
  • Do one thing at a time; break complex tasks down into manageable chunks.
  • Eat healthily, exercise, avoid alcohol and smoking.
  • Work out what helps you stay calm – it might be walking, yoga, meditation, a bath, watching a movie – we all have different ways to unwind.

If you need emotional support call LawCare on 0800 279 6888, email support@lawcare.org.uk or visit www.lawcare.org.uk to access webchat and other resources.