Is the Pressure on Legal Workers Too High?

Posted in Latest News on 29 Nov 2023

At Douglas Scott Legal Recruitment, we are always looking at research on happiness and satisfaction in the workplace.

We’ve seen some recent research from Moneypenny that shows that half of legal workers feel pressured to work overtime to meet the demands and expectations of their roles. This is something that was reflected in our last Salary Survey and one that we feel is worth exploring. Is the pressure to work extra hours too strong on legal professionals?

The research, published on the LegalCheek website, says that the typical legal worker went beyond their contracted hours on 11.4 days each month, and up to 50% of those surveyed said they felt pressured to work beyond their contracted hours. These results were similar to those working in banking, accounting, finance, social care, law enforcement and security. This is tallied with the data from our recent Salary Survey, which found that, across the UK, people worked for 41.5 hours on top of their standard hours per year. Even more shocking was that a quarter of those surveyed didn’t receive any additional money for their efforts. Many see working additional hours as a crucial part of their job, even if they aren’t getting anything in return for these extra hours. These findings also show that working consistent overtime is detrimental to people’s lives outside of the workplace. 26% of respondents cited that working overtime affected their physical health, while 23% also observed an effect on their mental well-being. More than one in six said overtime had caused relationship issues, and one in twelve even admitted overtime led directly to a breakup.

It's clear, then, that overtime working is a problem in the legal sector. By working long hours in a highly pressured environment and with even more of a drive to work longer hours, lawyers can find themselves heading very quickly for burnout. As mentioned above, physical and mental health can deteriorate, and even productivity can drop in a workforce that is ill-motivated by long hours of overwork and tiredness. All these things can lead to lawyers deciding to leave a firm, especially if another firm offers better working hours. It’s essential, therefore, that people set boundaries with their employers to avoid this. Delegation can also be a vital tool to help with this, as can technology to help manage your time better. It’s also important to understand that law firms must do more to help prioritise people’s mental well-being. Ensuring that overwork is not expected or even wanted in employees will mean they feel more comfortable setting boundaries and should, ultimately, become more productive.

Ultimately, this research should be a wake-up call for legal firms to try and avoid forcing employees to work long hours on top of those they are contracted for. For certain, people should be paid for the hours that they work, but even then, it’s important to bear in mind that a good work/life balance is what makes a firm’s workforce well-rested, engaged, and content, something that is the key to a successful and lucrative firm.

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