Lo♥︎ing legal life: Give yourself the gift of a genuine break this Christmas

This week, Systemic Coach Zita Tulyahikayo and barrister and NLP Master Practitioner James Pereira QC discuss the importance of not working while on holiday, for both the individual and for the firm.

Every email sent by a lawyer out of office hours or while on vacation creates a corrosive ripple in the cultural belief that good practice lies at the heart of business operations in the legal profession. Every one of these ripples sends the message that ‘I am indispensible’’without me nothing will get done properly’or ’ I am not organised enough to get my work done in a timely fashion before I leave the office’. Ultimately these e-mails chip away at any ideas that might be held that you are competent and capable. Furthermore, current statistics show that most firms are quite able to fully recover all operations within two weeks of the death of even the most senior or relevant member of staff.

Most lawyers who firmly hold the belief that it is vital to stay in touch even when they are out of the office for the most part do so not for the greater good of the firm or of their clients. In truth, most do it for their own peace of mind, to appease their own insecurities. However, even these lawyers should stop, and think for a minute before they click send on that oh so seemingly vital bit of digital output they have generated. Not all emails are created equal and when you send an email while you are on vacation you are sending more unwritten messages than are contained in the content of your mail.

You are sending the message that the wellbeing of the legal system, your firm, your clients, your success are not that important. When this happens continuously and repeatedly over time the end result is that all will not end well. There is a reason why the legal profession has a high burn out rate, addiction and mental health issues. No matter how well the issues may seem to be hidden, the cracks are plain for all to see. Unplugging is essential to resilience and survival. It is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. The hardest armies to conquer are the ones who understand the necessity to retreat and regroup before they reengage.

Four in ten employees who work in firms that don’t support unplugging are looking or planning to look for a new job in the next year, nearly double the 21 per cent of employees in supportive cultures. The hidden price of every email sent whilst on vacation costs more money to firms than the attempts to increase their profit margins by increasing billable hours could ever raise.

The boss has the greatest influence on how employees use their time. This influence is often even greater than that of the employee’s own husband, wife, and children. Here then is another hidden cost to the system and to the firm of sending that email from vacation: the downstream pressure of a boss who does not unplug makes it considerably harder for those further down the ladder to unplug.

The pressure to be seen to be working even while on vacation becomes all pervasive and soon the employees start to look elsewhere for a firm where he or she will be valued, and their wellbeing respected. And although clients may at first engage with a firm that seems to be on the ball 24/7, the human errors that invariably arise when work is performed under such circumstances leads them to inevitably choose to work with a culture that values and appreciates its staff, colleagues and ultimately them, the client.

It is essential for the wellbeing of an organisation to give each and every member of staff time off. After health, it is the second most important benefit that employees seek. Without it, something truly valuable is lost for the individual and for the firm itself. A wider perspective can only be reached by taking a step back. Without that vital step back, no person or organisation can really see what it is capable of, and what are the opportunities waiting to be realised. Much like computers, human performance is significantly enhanced after a reboot.

And on that note, Loving Legal Life will see you after the holiday season, with some new insights and perspectives.