Put the Stress on Leadership ; an Employee Who Sued His Firm after a Breakdown Has Highlighted the Nee D for Effective Management. Andrea Kennedy Reports
Kannedy, Andrea, The Independent (London, England)
These days, the legal press is full of articles - written by lawyers, not psychologists - urging firms to take stress seriously and to look after hard-working staff. It is commendable indeed, but why this sudden display of concern?
Because of a man called John Walker. Simply put, Mr Walker's employer increased his workload so significantly that the resulting stress led him to suffer two nervous breakdowns. He sued his employer for damages for failing to provide him with a safe system of work, and won.
But stress is not really about working hard, or even being overworked. If it were, most of the lawyers in the City would be gibbering wrecks. Hard work and pressure are part and parcel of any busy professional's day, and many actually work better under pressure.
Stress is different. Stress in the workplace is born of frustration and the loss of control that the employee has over his ability to do his job. Take Mr Walker's case. It was not his increased workload in itself that caused his eventual breakdown; it was the fact that the increase was not accompanied by any corresponding increase in help or guidance from his employer, leaving Mr Walker to fend for himself.
The more senior partners and management of law firms usually do not suffer from stress caused by work. After all, they are in charge, and if things are not going their way, they have the authority to put them right. It is far more likely to be middle management, secretaries and young lawyers who have the sleepless nights, the headaches and the panic attacks. They are the casualties of the firm that cannot properly manage its staff. Stress management begins with man management.
Let us look at law firm A. In the Eighties it enjoyed a period of great expansion. Productivity and profits were high, pay rises and perks generous. Everyone felt part of the team. As the firm grew, however, communications began to break down. Multiple layers of administration formed, alienating the partners from the staff.
When the recession hit, panic set in. The partnerships that were virtually guaranteed after six years' service were no longer there for the taking. Consequently, the lawyers began jockeying for power, and policies and planning were sacrificed at the altar of personalities, allowing the bullies to rise to the top.
Budgets for support services were cut dramatically and redundancies followed. Co-operation in the workplace was replaced by competition. The once-healthy working environment became contaminated by suspicion and anxiety. Absenteeism was high. Loyalty was still expected from staff, but was not reciprocated. Staff felt that they had no outlet for expressing grievances, or …
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Publication information: Article title: Put the Stress on Leadership ; an Employee Who Sued His Firm after a Breakdown Has Highlighted the Nee D for Effective Management. Andrea Kennedy Reports. Contributors: Kannedy, Andrea - Author. Newspaper title: The Independent (London, England). Publication date: January 18, 1995. Page number: 27. © 2009 The Independent - London. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.