Stress among lawyers on the up – but most won’t tell their employer

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19 April 2013

Stress: work overload the primary cause

Three-quarters of lawyers in the UK and Ireland report being more stressed than they were five years ago but two-thirds are reluctant to report their concerns to employers, a survey has found.

However, while seven out of ten said their work environment was stressful, almost half also described their workplace as friendly.

Results from the latest survey by LawCare – the independent charity which helps lawyers with problems such as stress, depression and alcohol misuse – which consulted around 1,000 lawyers of all stripes across the UK and Ireland, mirror the preliminary findings reported by Legal Futures last August.

More than 57% of those who responded were English and Welsh solicitors. Almost 15% were solicitors in Scotland and more than 11% were Irish barristers.

The findings pointed to significant suffering among respondents – who were self-selecting and responded to an SurveyMonkey online questionnaire – with stress (56%), alcohol addiction (2.4%), and eating disorders (2.1%) all cited.

One in six said they had taken time off work due to stress in the last year. More than a third of people who responded (35%) had had depression in the past, with a further 2% having been diagnosed with a non-depression mental illness. Just under one in five said they were currently suffering depression.

Being overloaded with work (60%), poor management – including lack of appreciation (53%) – and feeling isolated and/or unsupported (53%) topped the list of causes of stress, although many respondents skipped this question.

Long hours (41%), poor pay (30%) and having unattainable targets (30%) were also cited, along with lack of job security, being asked to do work beyond their expertise and being bullied.

In what appears to be a reflection of widespread poor management, two-thirds said they would “be concerned about reporting feelings of stress” to their employer.

In a further challenge for managers, about 70% of respondents said they worked late either every day or several times a week. Disturbingly, almost two-thirds agreed they were “not working to the standards you want to achieve” a similar proportion of the time.

Hilary Tilby, LawCare’s chief executive, said she was pleased that almost two-thirds of survey participants knew of the charity, but added: “It’s clear from the results of our survey that many lawyers are feeling increasingly stressed. Unfortunately, the majority also feel that it is not something that they can raise as an issue in the workplace, for fear of being perceived as being unable to cope with their work. They feel that by doing so, they may jeopardise their job.

“Lawyers are, as a rule, high achievers who have high expectations of themselves. They do, therefore, have to be careful that they do not become stressed as a result of trying to live up to those expectations…

“We know that law is perceived as having a long-hours culture and this is borne out by the findings.”

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