Sarah Bartrim
April 10, 2023
Culture, flexible work

The Culture Of Burn-Out In Business.

Following revelations late last year of overwork in the legal profession during the Banking Royal Commission, the floodgates have opened on this topic.  The discussion that has ensued is a difficult but important one: how can we adopt a more sustainable approach to ‘productivity’ in the corporate world? 

In order to find a solution, we must first investigate the reasons behind this unsustainable work-life culture. 

What exactly is the cause behind overwork and why do we do it to ourselves? 

It is difficult to pinpoint an answer to these questions, largely because the factors behind an employees’ working habits (including the hours they work and why) is vast and varied.

Think about your own motivations, for example, for doing that late-night last week.  Was it for client satisfaction?  A desire to prove yourself?  A product of the pervasive culture at your workplace?  Or a bid for recognition from senior leaders for that promotion?

NYU clinical psychologist and co-founder of Fortinberry Murray, Dr Bob Murray, argued that the prime drivers for employees to work is not remuneration but rather, the desire to be ‘part of a tribe’—we are social animals, after all.  Murray argues that it is this desire, and the need to enjoy the subject-matter of the work that is key to ensuring employee satisfaction. 

But how does this argument resonate for those of us who enjoy work but also want to spend time with our family?

It is possible—common even—for driven, intelligent employees who are passionate about their jobs to work unsustainable hours and experience burnout.  The issue here is not a lack of enjoyment for their work, but the reason why one feels the need to over-work; and that boils down to how productivity is measured in the workplace— the hours worked.

In order to change the culture of over-work and burn-out in business, we need to be able to look beyond solely persecuting managers and partners for enabling this practice.  In order to incite a real change in the work-life balance of our employees, we must bring the conversation to relevant stakeholders that influence an organisation’s deadlines and work output. There is a social contract here—in the legal industry for example where the key stakeholders, including clients, the judiciary, partners, and even the government (think of the deadline for the Banking Royal Commission here – was it necessary?) need to come to the table to create a real shift in the way that we work. 

Alison Laird, Head of Innovation and Project Delivery (APAC) at Pinsent Masons, argues that expecting employees to work a certain number of hours in a year or hit a certain measure for ‘productivity’ not only impacts mental health, but also innovation.  We need a different, more flexible approach.  Adapting a flexible workplace policy is the best way to increase your organisation’s bottom line growth, and due to progressive technological advances, is fast becoming the trend in the future of work.  Stakeholders engaging with organisations are now, more than ever, looking not only at D+I initiatives, but the overall wellbeing of employees.  Flow on effects of a well-being focussed culture would be numerous and include a lower attrition rate and higher client satisfaction.

A Human Agency are leaders in flexible work and culture.  If you want to stop measuring your employees’ productivity purely on hours, and want to see a boost in your organisations bottom line growth and productivity, then get in touch!



  • The Legal Forecast and Clarence Event: Life and Work in Law: Restoring the Balance. 7/5/19

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