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on burnout

While I am certain that I am not meant to be a law firm lawyer, sometimes I find myself wondering whether my weariness of lawyering perspective is due to "burnout." And if so, maybe I just remedy burnout. But after much pondering and rabbit hole dives into the recesses of the internet researching methods for overcoming burnout, the realization I have come to is that there is no remedy that I can create. Burnout is a problem without a solution that an employee can implement.

The World Health Organization defines burnout the as the result “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It's the "not been successfully managed" part that just makes me laugh. I read articles saying that to prevent burnout or to recover from it, you need to practice self care, you need to prioritize, take vacations, blah blah blah.

The real problem is structural. For example, I am the only associate on my cases. When I take a vacation, or practice self care by setting boundaries around my work time, keeping my weekends free of work, all that is happening is the mountain of work I have to address is getting larger. Which means that I spend all of my vacation worrying about what is waiting for me and continuing to pile up while I am gone. That is not restful or recharging.

There is no incentive for my employer to staff multiple associates on the cases - nor would client allow it. The more hours they can milk from me for the cost of my paycheck, the better for the firm. If they have to employ multiple associates to spread the load from my desk and other associates' desks it takes away from the partners' end of the year pot of money. God forbid.

Nor does taking a vacation or even just a few days off guarantee time away from work. I am currently writing from a cabin in the Poconos on what should have been a long weekend - a firm-sponsored/office is closed Friday/Monday kind of holiday weekend. Half of my Friday got taken with deposition preparation, and my Monday will be spent praying that the Wi-Fi in the cabin holds so that I can "handle exhibits" for a remote deposition that, until Friday, I was not told I should be expect to attend.

Putting the onus on employees to set boundaries that will not be respected is craziness and leads to despair. It's a fun trick to cause the employee to feel like it's their failure that they have not "successfully managed" their burnout when their attempts to do so fail (or, more truthfully, are obliterated).

I have no solutions that will be effected while I am a lawyer. But my mini rebellion is trying my hardest not to give in to the notion that this is my failure.


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