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Should we call time on long hours?

Posted by: Laurence Simons 18/09/15

Following on from last week – when we wrote about lawyers working non-developmental positions for less pay but a better work/life balance – another survey has caught our eye. Professor Janet Chan of the University of New South Wales has presented research on the culture of long hours in law firms. Her main findings indicate that long hours are not, in fact, indicative of good productivity, and that the sector should promote “a practice ethos that does not regard working long hours as a badge of honour.”

Based in Australia, the report takes into account the working times of local lawyers, but the practice can be seen in firms all over the world. In fact, the research even revealed that a colossal 71% of lawyers believe that long hours are needed for career advancement – which is also likely to be universal. But what is it about putting in the longest hours that is so beneficial? Especially when there are studies that suggest that your concentration and, more importantly, your health is not attuned to such long hours of concentration – and that productivity will inevitably dwindle.

One such study was by Dr Paul Kelley of the UK’s Oxford University. He claims that, before the age of 55, working before 10am is “torture” for the body because it fails to sync with the circadian rhythms of adults. This in turn will pose a “serious threat” to performance, mood and mental health. Pretty drastic for the sake of an hour? Well he has proof! (Of sorts). Monkseaten Middle School in the UK – where Kelley formally worked as head teacher – actually moved their start time from 8.30am to and found that the number of top grades rose by 19%.

With lack of sleep impacting performance, attention, long-term memory and encouraging drug and alcohol use, plus leading – in some cases – to exhaustion, anxiety, frustration, anger, impulsive behaviour, weight gain, risk-taking, high blood pressure, lower immunity, stress and a raft of mental health conditions, is this a point to really consider? Probably. But with competition from firms all around the world – some even working internationally – has the legal sphere itself become a 24-hour monster?

Should we call time on long hours once and for all?