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The hardest job: finding your work-life balance

13th December 2016

Stressed worker

If you are already a member of the legal profession, or even if you are still studying, you won’t need anyone to tell you that it is perhaps not the perfect career choice for those who want to stick rigidly to the 9-5 routine.

Whether browsing in house legal vacancies or private practice positions, you will notice that there is often not much in the way of detail about the hours the successful applicant will be expected to work. The reason for this is simple: lawyers are extremely busy people!

This Gov.uk page states that ‘a full-time worker will usually work 35 hours or more a week’, but it is no secret that many solicitors and others who are employed in the legal sector would regard a 35-hour week as something of a stroll in the park.

As the world gets busier and new technology means that we are more or less online 24/7, there is no escaping the fact that finding a rewarding work-life balance is now harder than ever. Plenty of lawyers – especially those who are just starting out on their careers and looking to make a good impression early on – will have more or less abandoned any attempt at finding this balance, dedicating themselves almost entirely to their work.

However, anyone who has experienced occupational burnout will know that this model of living is – for most of us – simply not sustainable. Despite our increased workloads, more and more employers are now recognising the need for staff to feel that their emotional wellbeing is not just respected but actively encouraged. This approach is not philanthropic but wholly practical – chronically overworked or tired employees will make bad decisions, not last as long in their jobs, and ultimately have a negative impact on their business’s bottom line.

Worker

We spoke to the WorkLife HUB, a consultancy providing work-life balance expertise and research to organisations from start-ups to global companies across industries, to get their recommendations on how to achieve a reasonable balance whilst employed in one of the busiest professions in the world.

The WorkLife HUB recommends that aspiring legal workers ‘consider first these elements when embarking on your career journey at a law firm: Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose; the three fundamentals to having a healthy, fulfilling and balanced life.’

Zoltan Vadkerti, Consultancy Director at WorkLifeHUB, believes that pursuing these three objectives – not just at work but in life generally – is key to getting the most out of everything we do; he goes on to explain how those looking into the different London lawyer jobs currently available can start their careers on the right note by following these goals:

Autonomy

‘The longing to control when, where and how to work. Consider looking for New Models of Legal Practices and smaller law firms that offer greater flexibility and an alternative way of working and collaboration.’

Mastery

‘The ambition to get better in what we do drives us to becoming entrepreneurs or freelancers. Virtual law firms, freelance attorney networks, matching professionals with small-scale projects, are all good places to start from. If you work for a big law firm seek continuous learning from inside and outside the office, even in the most unlikely places there is an opportunity to be inspired and learn.’

Purpose

‘Our inside need to connect with something meaningful. As a future/current law professional you will need to admit that keeping work, personal and family life separate has become impossible. Shifting the focus from work-life balance to work-life integration will help you connecting back to the core of your purpose: making a positive contribution to others’ life.’

It is the phrase used in that final Purpose section – ‘work-life integration’ – which is perhaps the best symbol of where we as a society are now heading in terms of trying to find that elusive sweet spot between a rewarding job and a fulfilling personal life.

As the WorkLife HUB makes clear, those of us with busy jobs now have to accept that we can never truly ‘clock off’ in the digital age. Instead, the keys to work-life happiness are making sure that you do something you love (this is not usually a problem for committed lawyers!), realising that doing this will sometimes require your attention outside of contracted hours, but also keeping front of mind the importance of spending time with your family, friends or favourite hobbies.

Chasing after the perfect work-life integration, of course, is not for everybody. Some people feel that they need the structure and routine of strictly regular hours, steadfastly avoiding taking any work home with them, and even trying to forget the office exists when they are not there. However, the professions where this is the norm are often not the most exciting or satisfying; let’s face it, most of us primarily work hard for the rewards that having a good job brings, and you are unlikely to reap those rewards if you never think about work after 5PM.

Handshake

It would be fair to say that there is no quick or easy way for successful lawyers to achieve the ideal work-leisure balance. Something that is easy to realise, though, is that anyone intent on focusing completely on one of these things at the expense of the other is likely to either fall out of love with their job very quickly, or not be able to reach the professional heights they had hoped for.

With a sensible and considered move towards work-life integration, you will find that whilst you may not be dedicating all of your energy to either sphere, you will be able to give 100% to both.  

Image Credit: aaayyymm eeelectriik