Firm life is bad for your health, study finds

by Samantha Woodhill30 Nov 2015
A recent report by PsychSafe principal consultant Dr Rebeccas Michalak has revealed that lawyers in firms have the worst health and well-being of any white-collar professionals, mainly due to high stress levels.

Surveying more than 800 white-collar professionals including 370 lawyers from firms and the bar, and about 170 lawyers working in government or in-house counsel roles, the research found that lawyers were more likely to be exposed to toxic behaviour in the workplace than any other professionals.

Strenuous workloads, overtime and high pressure were found to be the main reasons behind the low psychological and psychosomatic health and wellbeing, the study also finding that substance use and abuse among lawyers is almost twice that of other professionals.

“From a risk perspective, it’s after the fact – much like relying on a fire blanket, rather than preventing the fire in the first place,” Michalak told the Australian Financial Review.

“We seriously need to step away from the resilience cookie jar and move towards primary prevention strategies to address causes of poor mental health and wellbeing, which include work environment factors.”

Harassment in law firms is reportedly high, with lawyers three times as likely to resign after being badly treated.  In many cases, harassment remained unreported.  Many victims who did raise concerns often faced more negative experiences as a consequence.

“Factors including an unethical climate in the workplace, destructive leadership styles and poor human resources policies and practices are also affecting organisational culture as well as job performance, satisfaction and commitment,” the report found.

Older male partners were found to be the main perpetrators of mistreatment and often targeted female employees, leading to higher absenteeism and staff turnover rates, the AFR reported.