Making Work, Work

In an increasingly connected world, why are we hearing that people feel increasingly more alone? Whether in the office, at home with the baby, or working remotely, more people are experiencing feelings of loneliness. As the majority of our lawyers at Obelisk work flexibly, many remotely, we look at some of the data and causes, and how we can tackle this creeping sense of isolation.

Working Life and Loneliness

Our modern working culture has changed the way we socialise – spending the majority of our time in the office, often commuting far from our local area, means our social life often revolves around colleagues and peers who have a similar working day to socialise around. We move to where the work and schools are, rather than stay within the communities our families once grew up through generations in, so we are less likely to form a bond with our neighbours.

So, once our lives change and we suddenly find ourselves outside of the work circle, through maternity leave, a career break or a change to remote flexible working, we can start to feel isolated.

New parents are understandably one of the most susceptible groups to feelings of loneliness – 80% of mothers surveyed by Mush admitted as much.  Much like retirees, the sudden displacement from work routine and social life can leave them feeling they are removed from their usual support circle.

It’s not just those who choose to stop working for an extended period. Both office and remote workers are experiencing similar level of loneliness. Buffer’s 2018 State of Remote Work found 21% of remote workers see loneliness as their biggest struggle.

Office workers also struggle. Though they might meet and speak with dozens of people a day through their profession, time pressures and work culture may mean they aren’t able to form a personal bond with many people they work with. A long-hours culture – working through break times, skipping the after work socialising due to having to catch a train to make it home for the kid’s bedtime – reduces the opportunities to connect with colleagues and associates.

A Growing Concern

This all shows that loneliness is not confined to certain groups; both workplace and general loneliness are a growing condition of our existence.

Life is increasingly busy both at work and at home – a recent report found that the amount of unpaid household tasks we are doing in the UK has increased by 80% since 2005. We get so bogged down with things we must do, we lose appreciation of the simple pleasure of having nothing in our schedule, and using that time to reconnect with others.

Loneliness is having a profoundly negative effect on our wellbeing and how we work. A Gallup study, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, found 30% of respondents with a ‘best friend’ at work were 7 times more likely to be engaged in their jobs. Loneliness can affect our ability to self-regulate, and impact on physical aspects of our wellbeing including blood pressure, the immune system and cognitive ability.

The Paradox of Social Technology

Social media and communication apps that are meant to bring people closer are perhaps encouraging complacency. We have all the ways and means in the world to send a quick message and see people’s public updates, but this means we don’t think to stop and check in properly on how someone’s life is going behind the scenes. We see others sharing photos of group holidays and work events, and it seems like we are even more alone with our lonely feelings.

Of course, we should know deep down what we see isn’t the whole truth.  In a world of keeping up appearances, no one wants to admit they are feeling lonely, for fear of coming across vulnerable – we are fine; we are living the dream of doing what we want when we want! Thanks to pluralistic ignorance, no one wants to admit they are struggling because they believe they are the only ones feeling that way, and so the cycle continues.

How to Combat Feelings of Loneliness

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others

As hard as it may be, try to resist comparing yourself to the outside view of other people. Choose to follow more warts-and-all social media accounts that aren’t afraid to show vulnerability and the other side of the picture. This will help when sharing feelings of your own to others, as it serves to prove that there are many people out there in the same boat.

  1. Do some good in your community

Positive action, even if you’re starting out alone, will soon attract other likeminded people. Find a local community club, cause or online group for something you are passionate about. Not only will you be contributing something worthwhile, it will boost your own confidence and help you get outside of your own head for a while.

  1. Take time to say ‘hello’

Not every conversation has to be deep and personal to give you a little boost for the day. Slow down and take the time to talk to people you may see regularly but never interact with for more than a couple of seconds. Be it in a park, at the shop, or on public transport, the longer you sit or stay somewhere, you’ll be surprised at how many friendly conversations can take place – yes, even in London!

Advice for New Parents

Join local online communities – It’s hard to get out and about with a new baby, and there’s very little time or energy to put into much else, so you may need to find other ways to combat loneliness. Local online support groups and parenting forums can go a long way to help.

Be neighbourly – If you live near other houses, try to get to know some neighbours. Stay at home mothers, retirees, self-employed people who may be home in the daytime can be a huge help and provide a range of different insights and experiences.

Advice for Remote Workers

Make more phone calls – It’s all too easy to send a message when time poor, and especially so when you’re finding it hard to pick up the phone due to feeling vulnerable. Taking that first deep breath and talking to people on a regular basis really does work wonders. A message about one thing starts and ends on that subject alone, whereas with a conversation, you never know where it might lead, making the interaction altogether more stimulating and valuable.

Schedule the time – If you are not good at keeping in touch, put contacting and meeting people into your diary as you would with work deadlines and conference calls.

Choose clients carefully as a freelancer – If you can, try to choose to work with teams who value communication and human connection, and understand the challenges of remote working and the need to be connected to the organisation on a deeper level.

Advice for Office Workers

Ask others how they are feeling – The chances are that you are not the only one feeling this way, so look out for other people too. Ask them how they are doing, how they are getting on with their current caseload or particular clients. We all need an opportunity to vent at work from time to time and (as long as it’s kept professional!) can help us bond with colleagues.

Address the office culture – Feelings of isolation are likely to be due to something wrong with the organisational culture. There may be a lack of investment in social events and team cohesion, so focus on addressing the problem by suggesting events and activities that encourage better collaboration and interaction with colleagues.

At Obelisk Support we all have had experience of feeling isolated in our working lives. With a flexible core team and network of remote consultants we work tirelessly to keep in touch, organise events and create a culture that helps individuals feel continually supported and cared for. If you have any thoughts on tackling loneliness as a consultant or lawyer on a career break, we want to hear from you.

Making Work, Work

Guest post by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare

We all have mental health, just as we have physical health. Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. 

Mental health issues range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life, to serious long-term conditions. It can be easy to dismiss mental health problems as something that happen to other people, but research shows that 1 in 4 of us will experience them each year. And yes, the legal community is no exception.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’.

This definition places wellbeing at its heart.

So…

What Do We Mean by Wellbeing?

It means different things to different people but, it’s about how we feel, how we think, our relationships, and how we find meaning and purpose in our lives.

About 50% of our wellbeing is influenced by our genes, 10% is about our upbringing and external circumstances such as our health, work or financial situation, but crucially about 40% is influenced by our choices and attitudes – how we approach relationships, our values and our sense of purpose.

This means we can take positive steps to influence our wellbeing.  There has been considerable research into the science of wellbeing and this gives us an opportunity to use this evidence to make better choices to increase wellbeing in our personal lives, homes, schools, workplaces and communities.

How to Improve Your Wellbeing

There are five simple steps we can take to improve our wellbeing:

  • Connect –  with the people around us, our  family, friends, colleagues
  • Be active – finding time for exercise or enjoyable hobbies
  • Keep learning – new skills can boost confidence
  • Give to others – just a simple kind word to someone or volunteering your time  can improve your wellbeing
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you

In a professional context, wellbeing matters because it brings a number of benefits: greater self-esteem, optimism, resilience, vitality, self-determination, positive relationships with colleagues, better physical and mental health, greater motivation, greater creativity, and more productive work.

Wellbeing & Lawyers

It is known from research in the USA that lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. Why is this? It’s not that lawyers are genetically predisposed to poorer wellbeing than other people, there is something about the about the culture and practice of law that can have an impact. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.

Lawyers are expected to cope with the demands of the job, and fear that not coping will be seen as a sign of weakness. They can find it difficult to acknowledge that they may need support and talk openly about mental health in the workplace.

At LawCare, the charity that supports and promotes mental health and wellbeing throughout the legal community in the UK, we know that talking is an important first step in changing the way we think and act about mental health. We want to get the legal community talking about mental health.

Since we were founded in 1997 we have helped thousands of people in the legal community manage the day to day pressures of working in the law. But we want to support lawyers to do more than just survive in the legal workplace we want them to thrive.

Wellbeing & Resilience

Resilience is an important factor in the workplace. Resilience is the ability to resist or bounce back from adversity, and in any workplace there will be people who thrive on challenges and difficulties, while others will find it hard to cope with unexpected change or problems. If someone finds it hard to forge ahead when things go wrong, the good news is that we can all learn how to develop our resilience.

Highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in times of constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back, and feel confident that they will. That expectation is closely linked to a general sense of optimism, and finding the positive aspects in most situations is a skill that can be evolved. The right mental attitude to cope, and even flourish, when the going gets tough, can be developed.

10 Tips to Build Resilience:

  • Learn to see challenges, mistakes and failures as valuable learning experiences
  • Give yoursef a pat on the back when things go well. Be kind and forgive ourselves when things go wrong
  • Don’t give in to negative thoughts. Challenge them, and ask whether they are true or realistic
  • Use humour to defuse and downplay difficulties. We can laugh at ourselves and situations
  • Be flexible. Recognise that nothing stays the same, especially in the workplace
  • Take care of physical and mental health. Get enough sleep, exercise and eat well. When our physical self is in good shape, we are less fragile
  • Take time off work, use holiday entitlements and take breaks during the working day
  • Recognise that a bad situation is usually temporary
  • Build a support network. Make time for friends and family who offer encouragement and strength. Consult supportive work colleagues
  • Don’t extrapolate one bad situation into another unrelated situation. We can’t be good at everything; recognise areas of strength

Attitude and perspective are fundamental to building resilience. Paying attention to strengths and how to develop them, learning to accept that things won’t always go well, and focusing on what is working rather than what’s not, are all key.

How Things Can Change

We need to come together as a legal community to raise awareness and understanding of mental health, in order to create healthier and more supportive working environments for lawyers. Although attitudes are changing, the fact remains that many people feel unable to raise mental health problems at work, and we need to do something about this.

Organisations are only as strong as their people and a healthy and productive workforce where staff feel valued and supported, will be more committed to the organisation’s goals and perform better in their jobs. Mental health matters.  

About LawCare

LawCare is the charity that supports and promotes good mental health and wellbeing in the legal community throughout the UK and Ireland. Our support spans the entire legal life – from student to training, through to practice and retirement.

We understand life in the law. If people need someone to talk to, they can call us on our free, independent, and confidential helpline. Calls are answered by trained staff and volunteers, all of whom have experience of working in the legal sector.  We offer empathetic support for work, emotional, health and financial problems, and we signpost callers to specialist support where appropriate. Call us on 0800 279 6888 365 days a year, or visit our website www.lawcare.org.uk.

About Elizabeth Rimmer

Elizabeth Rimmer started her working life as a solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. She has been managing and developing charities in the mental health sector for over fifteen years, and joined LawCare as Chief Executive in 2014.

Making Work, Work

Studies show that lawyers are particularly susceptible to unhealthy lifestyle choices and stress, but this lawyer who runs bucks that trend. Loren Zitomersky, known as Backwards Guy on Twitter and Facebook, has an athletic record that would put to shame most extremely fit people. From 1,426-mile bicycle rides to yearly marathons and an Ironman, he never stops.

At Obelisk Support, we support a healthy lifestyle in the legal profession and are in awe of Loren’s achievements. The best part is that he’s doing all this for charity, to raise awareness about epilepsy. The Attic caught up with this lawyer, who runs before work, less than a month before his next goal – to run all 26.2 miles of the Boston Marathon backwards (yes, literally backwards running) and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3 hours, 43 minutes, 39 seconds – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace).

Hold on to your hat.

First, Tell Us What Do You Do in Your Day Job?

I’m a motion picture production attorney at Disney.  I work in the live-action motion picture production group and advise producers and Disney executives on legal matters pertaining to Disney movies.  I essentially act as the general counsel on the movies.  Most of my time is taken up negotiating and drafting talent (actors, writers, producers, directors) agreements, but my job encompasses a lot.  The most recent movie that I was the production attorney on that has been released was the live-action “Beauty and the Beast.”

How Important is Fitness to Your Life?

VERY important.  I’ve ran 7 marathons, completed an Ironman and done many triathlons.

How and When Did you Start Running Backwards?

I’ve been raising money and awareness for epilepsy for 20 years (over $300,000 raised to date), and I had told myself that if I qualified for the Boston Marathon, I would do something big for my fundraising and awareness campaign for the Boston Marathon.  I qualified at the Mounts 2 Beach Marathon in Ventura, California with a time of 3:00:14 last June.  I stumbled upon the record for the fastest marathon ever run backwards (3:43:39 – about an 8:30 min/mile average pace) and I thought I could beat that time and raise a ton of money and awareness for epilepsy at the same time.

How Do You Combine Training with Work?

Being a lawyer who runs is difficult.  I have been waking up super early in the morning and getting my backwards runs done early so that my day is clear for work, but it definitely is a juggling act.  My employer Disney has been very supportive of what I am doing.

Tell us about Epilepsy and the Boston Marathon

One in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in their lifetime, which is a crazy statistic.  The reason most people don’t know that epilepsy is so common is because no one talks about it.  People are afraid to talk about it.  They’re afraid of being judged, losing their job, losing their driver’s license and/or having a stigma attached to them.  I’m trying to change that and talk as much as I can to bring epilepsy out in the open.

How Can People Support You?

People can visit BostonBackwards.com to learn more and make a donation if they feel inclined (hopefully!).  Also, I just launched a challenge called “26 Steps Backwards to End Epilepsy,” and I’m super excited about it!  More info is on my website at bostonbackwards.com/26steps.

Words of fitness advice to other lawyers?

Always have a passion outside of work.  I think that is very important.

Bio

Loren Zitomersky was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, attending UCLA for undergrad and then later Pepperdine Law School in Malibu.  He is a motion picture production attorney at the Walt Disney Studios. He has two brothers, loving parents and a very supportive wife, Rose. In his free time, he runs backwards.

Making Work, Work

Burnout isn’t inevitable. On National Stress Awareness Day, we look at the endemic levels of stress in the legal profession and why it should no longer be tolerated as ‘part of the job’.

How much stress in our careers is acceptable? Law is widely considered to be one of the most highly stressful industries by those both inside and outside the profession. We all thrive on a certain amount of pressure, but on-going periods of high stress can have serious implications on physical and mental health.

Lawyers and the Pursuit of Happiness is a recent study by Keystone Law examining the happiness and wellbeing of 300 legal professionals. It found more than 63% of those surveyed believe law is more stressful than any other profession. Other studies have shown mental health occurrences more than double in law than other professions. Tellingly, the majority of respondents in the Keystone study (37.5%) cited flexible working as a solution to make job more enjoyable and less stressful.

As the legal services industry begins to change, flexible working patterns are more available to people with family and life demands. But this isn’t the whole story – it’s not just about accommodating personal circumstance, it’s about changing the culture of legal work to stop accepting burnout as an inevitable price to pay for being a lawyer. Legal work is highly valuable and it requires years of training, experience and aptitude to do the job well. However, it shouldn’t mean that people should have to run themselves into the ground to be successful. Everyone has to put in the overtime now and again, but a fair share of downtime should be facilitated. Client demands, a key point of stress for many lawyers in the study, can be met with more human first working patterns. As pointed out to us recently by an Obelisk consultant, with these changes clients have so many more flexible options to resource their legal needs, rather than paying for services and overheads they don’t require – potentially reducing stress on their part. With changing working patterns more and more companies are discovering that more can be achieved with less impact on mental and physical health, and that fostering culture with extreme levels of pressure is counterproductive long term. Healthier, happier legal professionals work better and are therefore likely to keep doing so for longer.

Take action

The International Stress Management Association identifies the psychological, emotional, physical and behavioural stress symptoms, such as memory lapses, mood swings, weight fluctuations and self-neglect. If you feel it is time to start making some changes to the way you work, there are options out there, and people you can talk to – many of whom have been there and come through the other side. Talk to a doctor, and have some honest conversations with friends and relations. Be part of the change and consider flexible working options to take control of your working life, and together perhaps we can banish the culture of burnout once and for all.

Stop stress from being the measure by which you value your worth as a professional. Explore The Attic for more thoughtful reads on the topic.

Making Work, Work

The future of work is already human. We just need to be more human, more of the time – Roger Steare, corporate philosopher

If you were following the #workischanging event hosted by CIPD this week, there were some interesting insights into the future of work, with flexible working and technology being two of the main topics discussed. Mobile technology, computerisation of traditionally human led job roles, reinventing the office and office culture, and the rise of the freelance economy; all these developments show our working world is a much different picture to the 9 to 5 cubicle office life that we still have the tendency to see as the traditional default.

What these changes really have at the heart is human endeavour and wellbeing. Shaking up office culture is all about creating the conditions to get the most out of workers, by making them happier in work and more able to balance their work and personal lives.

Obelisk has also been hearing what people would do with the time made available to them by working smarter and more productively in a flexible environment, as part of our #MyMillionHours campaign. We’ve looked in detail at the economic gains that can be made by reactivating talent and allowing people with fluctuating personal lives a way to continue working in harmony with those priorities. The numbers don’t lie, but what the discussion keeps coming back to is the prioritisation of worker’s wellbeing enabling everyone to do a better job at home and in their work, and remain happy and committed to the job they are in.

Expecting people to be boxed into work conditions that don’t accommodate their real, everyday lives should have long been dismissed as counterintuitive, yet it has been an accepted normality for so many for so long. By treating workers as human first, and shaping our changing working landscape around human life patterns and emotional reactions, while developing technology that enables us to do our jobs better, more efficiently and in more locations than ever, that acceptance gives way to innovation and change.

The very nature of modern business is fast paced, requiring businesses and people to be agile,  proactive, and reactive, with weekly and daily changes to projects, marketing campaigns, customer service responses, legal contracts and much more. Bringing in freelance workers on a project by project basis helps fight those daily fires, and allows businesses to bring in the specific talent and expertise required at the time. By doing so, a pool of latent talent is being tapped, and people who previously felt locked out of work or unable to progress their careers find their skills and experience reactivated, with their confidence and drive increased as a result.

It doesn’t need spelling out what an increase in confidence, wellbeing and ambition can do for the economy and society as a whole. Injecting 1 million hours into the legal sector can bring a much needed improvement to working patterns and wellbeing within the industry. Work for the majority of us is our passion – for many it is a vocation – and the feeling when it no longer is compatible with our lives is a devastating one. Seizing the opportunities presented by the changing working landscape could mean that no one has to experience that feeling again, and that talent can be brought back to life and used to make the lives of clients easier too. Changing work for the better is a matter of putting humans at the centre.