Are You Okay, Big Shot?

02 Oct, 2023
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Ammar ElBanna

Founder of Incept Legal, Of Counsel, Khodeir & Partners

 

Mental Health In The Workplace Matters-Breaking the Silence in Law Firms in the Middle East

In the fast-paced world of law firms, where the billable hour reigns supreme and the pursuit of success can feel like an endless marathon, mental health and well-being often takes a back seat. However, it is high time we address this issue with the seriousness it deserves.

The Stressful Saga of the Legal Jungle

Picture this (well, if you are blessed enough to be a lawyer, you don’t have to picture anything- this is you): a corporate warrior dons a power suit, coffee in hand, ready to conquer the day. However, beneath that confident facade, they might be concealing a battlefield of anxiety, stress, and burnout. I used to be that person, if I’m completely honest.

Doubting what I am saying? Research shows that workplace stress is a leading cause of mental health issues, and it's not just the board room, but also the court room and transaction closure room, where this problem thrives.

Lawyers: The Guardians of Justice... and Stress

Although lawyers are often seen as fearless champions of justice, they too grapple with mental health challenges.

Being “stressed” in the legal industry is worn as a badge if honour. We love to be “so busy”. Aren’t we awesome!

The relentless pressure of high-profile cases, the looming deadlines and the never ending turns of transactional documents can lead even the most stoic attorneys to the brink. Scientific studies reveal that lawyers have higher rates of depression and anxiety compared to other professions. Who knew that all those courtroom and closure meeting dramas did not quite capture the whole story! Perhaps for the very reason that speaking up can be seen to be a weakness.

Stigma vs. Strength- Cultural Sensitivity

In our beloved region, the Middle East, our tradition often takes precedence over measured disclosures, and the subject of mental health remains shrouded in secrecy.

Yet, acknowledging and addressing this challenge is vital for the well-being of the region's workforce.

Interestingly, the Holly Quran deals with well-being and self reflections in various occasions. Allah says in the Quran “he is indeed successful who causeth it [the innerself] to grow”, so where these tradition came from is a question, I’m yet to have an answer to.

Ironically, the Middle Eastern workforce embodies remarkable resilience. The ability to endure adversity is highly regarded, yet this same resilience can sometimes deter individuals from seeking help. Emphasizing that seeking support is a courageous step, not a sign of weakness, is a pivotal shift. Easier said then done, I know!

Middle Eastern workplaces must approach mental health awareness with cultural sensitivity. Initiatives should incorporate language, imagery, and practices that align with local customs and values. Striking the right balance between progress and tradition is a key.

Equally, leaders in law firms must ensure that well-being and mental health are not being misused by workforce to avoid adherence to the, not very easy, nature of our legal profession and to our clients’ demands.

What To Do Then

Many forward-thinking companies, and law firms, conservatively, are now taking steps to address mental health issues. They're offering employees assistance programs, and creating open dialogues about mental health. After all, a happier workforce is a more motivated and creative one.

In conclusion, the corporate world, is finally waking up to the importance of mental health. It is ironic that in a profession where we, lawyers, often seek justice, we sometimes forget to seek it for ourselves. However, the tide is turning, and the stigma is slowly eroding.

Let's, as cliché as it sounds, embrace this change, support one another, and find humor in the irony that it took so long to prioritize mental health in the workplaces we've dedicated our lives to.

This requires implementation of certain mechanisms from leaders in law firms to address the issue rather than just paying lip service. In doing so, we can create healthier, happier, and even more successful corporate and legal environments.

With all of that, you still have to keep the business financials and objectives on target. How you strike the right balance between what the business requires and what the workforce needs! Well, I am investing into finding practical solutions to that question and am building something in that arena.

Watch the space!

 

Ammar ElBanna

Founder of Incept Legal
Of Counsel Khodeir & Partners
Mental Health First Aider by LightHouse Arabia

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