Work/life balance has a huge impact on mental wellbeing, especially in high-pressure legal roles, when it can seem like stress and long hours are part and parcel of the job. According to the Office for National Statistics, 12.7 percent of all sickness absence days in the UK can be attributed to mental health conditions, highlighting the importance of prioritising employee wellbeing across all sectors.
Achieving a better work/life balance is becoming a growing priority among those seeking both locum and permanent legal roles. Candidates are even opting to take a slightly lower salary in favour of more flexible working conditions, suggesting they are placing increasing value on their wellbeing both inside and outside of work. Here are some points to consider to help you to achieve a better work/life balance in the legal sector:
1: Understand what balance looks like
Work/life balance will look different to every individual, but at its core it refers to feeling like you are in control, feel happy both inside and outside work, and resist letting work completely dominate your world.
There is often an assumption that only female workers would want to take advantage of greater flexibility, but there are just as many benefits for men and we represent a number of male lawyers who benefit from a more flexible working arrangement.
Similarly, people often wrongly assume that it is purely introduced as a concept for parents, especially when flexible working is discussed as a way to achieve that balance. Parents can and do benefit from flexible hours so that they can balance their family life, but every individual is entitled to this – regardless of their family situation.
It is important that all employees feel able to discuss their work/life balance with their employer and that they can explore flexible working if that is appropriate. The key point here is to identify what a good balance looks like for you personally, then you can work to achieve that.
2: Consider public sector
There is a common misconception among legal candidates that roles in the public sector are less dynamic than working for a private practice, but a career in public sector law can be incredibly varied and offers many opportunities for a better work/life balance. The public sector is typically more generous when it comes to holiday allowance, flexible hours and the option to move to a reduced working week, all of which can boost wellbeing.
As the sector is already used to offering these flexible conditions, there is likely to be a process already in place for tailoring your role. And even if flexible working is not an option, you might find that a more generous holiday allowance allows you to achieve a better work/life balance.
3: Consider what flexibility your specialism will allow
The main consideration for legal candidates looking to work flexibly is the nature of the specialism and role they hold. Typically, the more court time that is required in your job, the less flexibility there could be in terms of working hours and shorter working weeks.
Specialisms that involve a lot of court attendance – such as housing law, criminal prosecutions and childcare law – can often mean that both employees and employers need to be a little bit more creative to factor some flexible working into their week. For example, you might not have the option of shorter working weeks, but you could opt to work from home around court hearings to cut down on travel time to and from your office, but don’t have the same option for complete flexibility
Remote working and flexible hours are often more feasible in fields such as commercial contracts and procurement, commercial property and adult social care law, as the employee has a little more control with managing their work schedule, rather than their week being structured around court hearings. However, it is worth noting that ultimately all legal specialisms are demanding in their own way and the overriding factor in choosing a specialism should always be the level of passion you have for the work. [MM1]
4: Speak to your manager or recruiter about flexible hours
Once you have identified how you can bring balance into your next role, you should discuss this with your recruiter. Doing this at the initial stage of your job search will ensure you are placed in a role that matches these needs, so you should not have to wait until you have been appointed to make these requests.
If you are already in a job and have worked for the same employer for at least 26 weeks, you have a legal right to request flexible working. You should approach your manager to discuss this, but make sure you have built up a strong case beforehand. Identify any pitfalls for the business and ensure you have considered whether it would have a detrimental impact on your team. Once you have a clear case against any barriers, discuss your proposal with your line manager and help them to build a picture of how your flexible hours might look.
5: Bring balance to your existing role
If you are unable to achieve flexibility in your job, consider how you could organise your time while you are at work so that you can integrate some downtime into your day, whatever your working hours may be. Rather than hurtling through the day at full speed to try and rush home to relax, perhaps you could include some relaxation into your day.
Taking time away from your desk at lunch is a crucial part of improving your wellbeing at work, so start by pushing yourself to go on a ten minute walk and then gradually build up to taking your full lunch break entitlement. You are far more likely to be productive if you have reset your mind and return from lunch more focused. You could also consider hobbies such as yoga and meditation during lunch or before and after work, enabling you to switch off from the day and create a firm barrier between work and home life.
Achieving a better work/life balance can seem like an impossible task when you are struggling, but by considering just one of the above steps you might find that you are already on the path to improving your wellbeing. This will not only benefit your life outside of work, but it should also boost your productivity, enthusiasm and output during working hours.