Could Working From Home Improve Professionals’ Mental Health ?

A recent Thomson Reuters survey shows that two-thirds of UK lawyers believe working from home has improved their wellbeing. According to the responses, on average, lawyers would prefer to work from home (WFH) two days a week. Lawyers also stated they wanted a 10% average reduction in working hours, and more than a third (34%) are willing to reduce their compensation in exchange for a shorter working week.

Like all other pandemics that have gone before it, Covid-19 has made numerous people re-evaluate their lives and what is important . The real estate “race for space ” – urban dwellers flocking to buy homes in the country – is one aspect of how priorities have changed for many. So, if working from home, at least some of the time, is here to stay, will this aid or impede mental health improvements for professionals such as architects, surveyors, and solicitors?

The generation gap

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the WFH revolution, and for some, especially the young and single, WFH puts them at risk of adverse mental health. One IT worker told the BBC :

“I’d been on antidepressants and by March I was feeling like there was light at the end of the tunnel,” he adds. “But being in lockdown makes me anxious and I get distracted by anything around me.

The biggest thing for me is the lack of social interaction. I have some good friends at work and we go for a run in our lunch break. Not having that exercise and interaction is difficult.”

However, law firm partners surveyed by Thomson Reuters said they enjoyed greater efficiency, more productive use of technology, less commuting, and a better work-life balance. Almost one-third of senior lawyers said they would consider leaving their current firm if more flexibility could not be arranged.

Avoiding burnout

In April 2021, the highest billing equity partner for five consecutive years, of a top-50 UK firm, won a discrimination case against his employer because his firm failed to understand his deteriorating mental health and provide any support.

Michael Taplin, former head of the Derby office of Freeths, suffered from burnout after putting in 15-hour days to meet an annual billing target of £250,000. Mr Taplin took a period of seven weeks absence in 2017 and in that time, Freeths did not try and establish the cause of Mr Taplin’s burnout or attempt to arrange counselling. Employment Judge Broughton said :

“[Freeths] had benefited over the years from his drive and passion for his work however, that at least in part, had we find [sic] on a balance of probabilities caused or contributed to his ill health… if the [firm] were to allow him to return to the workplace, they had an obligation to apply their minds to how they could prevent the risk to his health that his work may cause.

The Tribunal find that there was a failure by the Respondent to make reasonable enquiries to inform itself about the Claimant’s condition, the medication he was taking, its possible side effects, the triggers for his anxiety and stress, the signs he was struggling and what further support he may benefit from other than a ’gentle return’ in terms of hours and work.”

This judgment, along with reports in March concerning first-year bankers at Goldman Sachs, who have spoken out over excessive working hours and workplace abuse, demonstrates that post-Covid, professionals are not so willing as they once were to sacrifice their personal lives and mental health for their job.

More rest, fewer mistakes?

Many regulatory investigations, especially concerning lack of integrity and dishonesty, stem from an employee, feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unable to talk to their superiors, and covering up mistakes. Reducing working hours and allowing WFH flexibility for those who desire it may well result in fewer incidents which lead to a firm being investigated by its regulating body.

We will keep you updated as to how professions such as law and architects support their employees’ yearnings for the ability to WFH and fewer hours.

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