Leaving it at work: Preventing burnout before it begins

Posted on 01-07-2016 by
Tags: health , burnout , career balance , Trending News & Topics , career , work-life balance

5…4…3…2…1… HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

As you ring in the New Year, you’ll toast to countless things such as good health, happiness and success. Another popular thing many will toast to is to having the ability to Leave it at work!

What are you leaving at work exactly? Well…work.

This “leave it at work” resolution is a popular one among many who feel consumed by their job; however, shortly after ringing in the New Year you find yourself back in the office, which makes it feel as if that resolution never even crossed your mind. As you already know, if you work long hours and still think about work when you leave the office, you are heading for a classic case of burn out. And, it is often very hard for many attorneys to turn down any quality work, even if already overburdened. In fact, most attorneys would “rather be overwhelmed with work than not have work to do,” a common issue in the legal profession.

And, this time of year often leads to burnout. According to a fellow LexTalk community member:

“You get a couple of days off with friends and family and then you want more.”

Intellectually, most attorneys understand all of the things they *should* be doing, such as sleeping, eating right, exercising and unplugging; however, practically speaking, actually doing these things often seems impossible. Most of us are always too quick to prioritize everything and everyone else above ourselves and our own personal needs.

So how do you manage expectations to position yourself to under-promise and over-deliver? We asked a group of legal professionals how to stay motivated after a long holiday break to prevent burnout. Many also offered insight about some helpful tactics they use to help mitigate burnout with colleagues and subordinates as well.

Recognizing the signs of burn out:

As a manager I think it is very important that you continue to observe your subordinates for signs of burn out and ensure you have very open communications so that employees feel comfortable bringing those issues to you. The classic missing deadlines, reduction in quality of work and analyses are the things for which I look.

I think it is important to reach out to your boss or colleagues if you are starting to feel burned out.  Most of us try to do too much ourselves, even those of us who have people to whom we can delegate.  I often get e-mail fatigue when working on a deal where there is constant back and forth.  A few computer-free days, as others have suggested, can be very helpful.

An easy sign of burnout is when you start overlooking/missing basic functions and elements of life like eating, laundry, exercising, seeing/interacting with friends, etc.

All of this is easy to say but so difficult to implement in practice. The signs of burnout are incredibly easy to spot but we are often so wrapped up in the craziness that we put our blinders on and go.  Sometimes (most of the time) we don't have a choice. As a result I think it would be great to take a few days off after a trial, deal, etc. in order to reset and start again. 

The art of saying NO:

I don't have a good answer. It feels like burnout is impossible to escape when cell phones keep us constantly connected, and my boss sends me emails at 4:00 am.

It's always a tough line to walk between telling people that you are too busy to take on new assignments and worrying that they won't come back to you. I always err on the side of telling people I'm too busy. In my experience, people generally understand, and it won't foreclose future opportunities. There's no reason to risk burning out because you're worried about losing future assignments. That basically puts you in a position to be burned out constantly.

I try to maintain the perspective that I am managing my own brand and work quality. The quality of the work product should be what makes the client/partner ask me to do more. If I am struggling to get everything done, my brand suffers. Once you get over the mental hump of saying no the first time or two, it becomes much easier. The key is to make sure that you are selective about when you say “no” – you don't want the reputation of the person who always says no.

Helping a “burned out” colleague:

To younger attorneys and even older ones I always recommend going to lunch. Whether it is bringing your lunch and finding a spot where you can sit and eat lunch and read the paper is ALWAYS healthy. Whether it be for 10 minutes or a full hour, it is YOUR time. If you're not hungry go for a walk. 

I agree that when we are in the middle of a frenzy it is hard to avoid the burnout. One thing we can do is to try to be kind to others around us if we see them struggling. Pick up a coffee or sandwich for them on our way in without them having to ask. Find a case if someone sends a frantic email. 

And remember, when “it’s not fun anymore” you could be suffering from a case of burnout yourself.

As said by one contributor:

“Before Thurgood Marshall became a Supreme Court Justice, he always advocated to young attorneys and law students, ‘A professional goes home at night. If you are good at what you do, you should be able to read the newspaper in the morning, break for lunch in the afternoon, and going home at night for supper. It is impossible to be successful at anything in life, if you cannot do the latter three things.’”

Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comment section below about how you “leave work, at work.”

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