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Female Lawyers Especially at Risk of Burnout
Female Lawyers Especially at Risk of Burnout
By Signe Dayhoff

In keeping with the lingering Superwoman myth of the 1970s, women lawyers have been not only expected to juggle job, home, and family but also strive for billable-hours success in their firms. But being competent, effective, and productive is not sufficient. Increasingly, more has been demanded by the workplace because of the desire for greater profit and the problems of the economic downturn, leaving female lawyers particularly at risk for burnout.

Today's philosophy is still that women should emulate the male workaholic model: Do whatever the job requires then keep going that extra mile or two. The assumption is that if a woman lawyer is serious about her job, she too will strive to do the work of two people and invest time and energy in the company as if it were her own enterprise.

But buying into these expectations puts the 308,707 female lawyers (as of 2000) at risk of significant job stress. Job stress results from the pressures of responsibility, accountability to top management, work overload, time constraints, and unclear work expectations.

When the burden of home and family which women traditionally have borne is added, women become prime targets for burnout. In 2009 women were the primary or equal breadwinner in two-thirds of American homes. As aNational Law Journalarticle points out, 5.9 percent of lawyers (mostly women) are now working part-time because they "have no choice but to go on a part-time schedule or quit their jobs because of family obligations," especially in recessionary times.

Burnout symptoms for women include fatigue, working harder but accomplishing less, boredom, cynicism, feeling sad, irritable, detached, joyless, experiencing psychosomatic complaints such as headaches and intestinal distress, and deterioration of interpersonal relationships. Of course, men have long suffered the fallout of workaholism: High blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attacks, ulcers, colitis, and depression.

This workaholic orientation reinforces and perpetuates itself because workaholics tend to be highly motivated, intensely energetic, and productive. This what law firms value and hire. This means that lawyers, especially female workaholic lawyers, need to maximize the good (being seen as valuable) and minimize the bad (personal and professional costs) by establishing and maintaining a balance between work and "play."

A few ways to decease the stress and increase the balance are:

- Expect and prepare to experience conflicts between different roles and goals.

- Learn to work smarter not harder by managing your time and resources.

- Discover your peak energy - concentration level times and schedule your most difficult tasks for that time.

- Learn your limits then organize, manage, and pace yourself.

- Make time to exercise, meditate, eat properly, and do a leisure activity.

- Know that "having it all" is unachievable unless you lower your standards of excellence and accept compromises.

- Get your overwork and stress-related symptoms under further control by seeking professional help, such as Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. CMC, who helps lawyers establish a healthy work-life balance:

Dr. Signe A. Dayhoff, Ph.D., teaches solo law practitioners how to magnetically attract prospects and increase their clients 20% in only 3 months in 5 simple steps and do it with professionalism and integrity.


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