A recent article about stress at work highlights the results of LawCare’s survey, of just over 1,000 lawyers, which show that stress, overwork and lack of appreciation cause the highest levels of stress, leading in some cases to depression. So what’s stress got to do with risk and compliance?

In these difficult financial times, it’s inevitable that there is pressure to perform, generate fees and keep the business afloat. Some will say that if you didn’t want stress then don’t be a lawyer and this is the flavour of the comments posted following the Gazette’s news item on this survey. It may be true that that the right amount of stress can be a positive driver, as it spurs people on to achieve. However, if the workloads of managers and staff are such that unachievable targets are being set and no support is being given, then the result will likely be lower productivity and greater risk.

The SRA’s principle 8, in the code of conduct, requires that the business is run effectively and the roles within the business are carried out effectively, and in accordance with proper governance and sound financial and risk management principles. If staff are stressed, but feel unable to tell anyone, or feel that nothing will change even if the issues are raised, then their work is likely to be affected. Stressed and demotivated staff are unlikely to be effective and as a result they are more likely to generate higher levels of complaints and /or claims. The fact is that ignoring stress is failing to manage the risk.

Perhaps we should think about the claims of a study published in 2013 called Happiness and Productivity by Andrew J Oswald, Eugenio Proto, and Daniel Sgroi, which provides evidence to show that happiness makes people more productive.

Firms need to look at ways to build this into their working practices. When we were drawing up the client service charter for the LawNet Mark of Excellence as part of our extended ISO9001 standard, one of the key factors we identified in driving customer satisfaction was happy staff. As a result, our member firms have to commit to ‘looking after our people, because happy people do better work’ through the right support and culture.

So what can you do to make your workplace happier? In these difficult financial times wouldn’t we all like staff to be more productive and make fewer mistakes? Addressing the issues which create stress can lead to a win-win situation. A well-managed organisation will create a better working environment, leading to higher productivity and reduced risks.

Jeanette Lucy is the director for compliance, quality and learning with law firm network LawNet.