Lawyers Need Less Face, More Time

Are you tired of being tired at work, sitting at your desk simply because there are more senior lawyers still burning the midnight oil? Not only could you be costing your firm in lost productivity, but you could be costing yourself you health as well.

The Swedish city of Gothenberg is attempting an experiment with public sector employees by reducing their workday to six hours.

The city is also maintaining a control group at regular hours and the same pay. They hope the experimental employees will demonstrate indicators such as higher productivity and lower absenteeism, and preliminary results appear promising.

Gothenberg’s experiment is supported by scientific literature. OECD data on labour productivity (GDP per hour worked) suggests that greater productivity is realized with shorter hours. Greeks work more than 2,000 hours a year, the highest in OECD countries, but are 70% less productive than the Germans, working 1,400 hours a year.

Shorter work days may also lengthen longevity and productive work years into old age. British researchers looking at workers in Europe, the U.S. and Australia over 8 years found that those working over 55 hours a week demonstrated a 33 percent higher stroke risk and coronary heart disease. Longer hours are also associated with higher anxiety and depression, and increased mortality risks.



Private companies in Sweden have also been experimenting with the 6 hour work day. A CBC interview of a Swedish SEO company this week illustrated how they were also able to be more productive than their competitors by reducing their work hours. The added benefit was they were able to attract, and retain, the best talent.

The interview also spoke to an American HR specialist and former CEO, who thought the idea was implausible in the U.S., largely because of the technological constraints which tie employees to the office, even when they have physically left. Aside from (real) emergencies in practice, there’s not much reason why some space cannot be created here as well.

A six hour workday may not be a realistic goal for most legal practices, but there are some management controls which can be introduced to achieve these productivity gains.

The mortality risk observed by long hours can be mitigated somewhat in some studies by introducing more flexibility and autonomy, and reducing economic pressures forcing individuals to work long hours. Although tuition debt may be outside of a firm’s direct influence, the culture and expectations of lawyers to provide “face time” is something that can be deliberately addressed.

For firms interested in actually investing in young associates (and not just making platitudes about doing so), reduced stress, increased supports, and more flex time may ensure these lawyers stay with the firm, and stay productive, for much longer. Lawyers looking at competing firms should consider these factors when properly weighing options available to them.


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