Stressed up, nowhere to go by Frank Saxby, Burgess Mee Family Law

This article was originally featured as a column in the November 2017 issue of LPM. To read the issue in full, download LPM.

I have seen many intelligent and hardworking lawyers, legal support and essential business-support members gradually become ground down by the stresses of their jobs. But others seem to still be smiling and enjoying (for the most part) the challenges that the 21st-century legal market presents. Why the difference?

Pressures of the changing market, wider economy, the day-to-day running of the firm, cash and profitability, team dynamics, transforming technology and inevitable deadlines can amount to cognitive overload that crashes up and down the firm’s hierarchy and demands a great deal of every employee. Lawyers are trained to put the client first and the SRA’s principles mandate that everyone acts in the interests of the client. The common factor? It’s all about putting someone or something else first.

But I was sitting on a plane listening to the usual inflight safety briefing: “In an emergency, if the oxygen masks are deployed secure your own before helping others,” and it dawned on me that putting others first isn’t always the best thing to do. We’re not in potentially life-or-death moments every day, but putting yourself first is an important lesson and relevant to you and your teams. This is because if you don’t look after your own wellbeing, how are you going to help others?

So, what are some of the key differences between those ground down by stress and those who bounce back? From my observations, there are several common characteristics in those who keep coming back for more – other than being gluttons for punishment or just plain crazy.

First, they have an awareness of what is going on around them, the behaviours of others and their own reactions. To be able to manage a situation you must try and understand what is causing it and why. They differentiate between those things they can change and control and those they cannot.

Second, they accept the inevitability of change, have strong problem-solving skills, have great inter-personal skills, and maintain a sense of control. They often have a network of contacts with whom they discuss challenges to gain outside perspectives.

By being aware, accepting change and using problemsolving skills and contacts, they can find better ways to tackle problems and reduce stress. Distinguishing between things they can change and those they can’t helps them to think positively, and enables them to direct energy towards the issues they can influence. Finally, the ‘bounce-back’ people often make time for learning and personal development as well as for looking after their health and family, friends, rest and recuperation. By doing this they maintain balance between their work and personal lives.

The good news is that I’ve seen people progress – once they know what to do, these skills and attitudes can be developed and strengthened. It’s not set in stone; it’s in your hands to look after number one – you. Once you’ve done that you’ll be better prepared to manage, serve and assist those around you. There’s no better purpose.

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