Once you’ve been a risk manager it is difficult to contemplate the future without occasionally viewing it through the lens of risks that only become clear when you look for them. An article in Monday’s Wall Street Journal sparked that contemplation in me yesterday.
The article, Law Firms Tackle a Taboo, revealed that some major law firms don’t know what they don’t know. The article focused on mental health; specifically stress, burnout, depression, anxiety, and suicide with a focus on what some law firms are doing about it and what others refuse to do.
Since our latest book, Burnout: Prevention and Recovery: Resilience and Retention will be out this week this is a topic I am familiar with and concerned about solving.
In 2014, I compared employer’s potential liability for stress-related claims to the asbestos lawsuits that put so many companies into bankruptcy because of lives they destroyed.
Perhaps Joseph Andrew, the global chairman of Dentons law firm was misquoted when he said he was afraid to offer on-site assistance for his attorney’s because “our competitors will say we have crazy lawyers.” Or perhaps they offer off-site assistance for their attorney’s.
As the largest global law firm, I hope they are doing something.
Perhaps they don’t know what they don’t know. The thing is, at this point, they should know. Companies taken down by asbestos litigation were found liable because they knew the risk to employees (or should have because the risk was known) and they did not provide adequate protection for their workers.
The exact same claim, that they know or should know, can be made about stress and burnout today. That is especially true for an international company that must be aware that in England, employers have a duty of care for work-related stress in both statutory and common law.
As far as being aware of the risk, it is difficult to deny knowledge when articles in The Wall Street Journal highlight the increased risk of suicide amongst attorneys. Much like it is difficult for healthcare organizations to deny the risk to physicians when articles about the healthcare crisis of physician burnout are published in Becker’s Hospital Review.
If I was still a risk manager instead of following my passion and teaching people how to thrive in spite of adversity, what would I tell the Board about their risks?
- The risk of a costly lawsuit for work-related stress is high. Low stress reduces the risk of heart disease by 50%. Heart disease kills approximately 2/3 of people globally each year. Stress also has a significant role in:
· Auto-immune disorders
· Skin disorders
· Cancer, onset and survival
|· Adverse epigenetic changes|
· Pre-term births
· Mental health diagnoses
· Drug and Alcohol abuse
|· Sleep problems that increase the risk of adverse health outcomes|
- Stress is now known to adversely affect multiple generations via both epigenetic changes and adverse birth outcomes including increased rates of childhood asthma, sleep disorders, and depression prior to age 16. There is a potential that employee’s children could claim damages for their own stress-related physical and mental health outcomes by tracing them to parental work-related stress.
- The risk of a devastating class action lawsuit for work-related stress is high.
- There are steps that we can and should take to mitigate the risks
- There is no longer any wiggle room for a “We did not know the risks” defense. There is robust and extensive scientific evidence for each of the stress-related problems noted above. Those are just the most common. There are many more that are also well documented.
- Employee engagement surveys put the icing on the prosecutor’s cake because it evinces that we know there are problems.
- It is not all bad news. Addressing work-related stress using the latest research can be done at a cost neutral or better with a fairly short ROI.
- The best way to prevent adverse work-related stress outcomes is with prevention.
- The second best way is with pro-active assistance with recovery.
- Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are inadequate because most employees will not seek assistance until they are in serious trouble.
- New research makes burnout prevention and recovery easier than ever. The Smart WayTM developed by Happiness 1st Institute, a Thrive More Now Company uses the latest research to teach strategies that reduce stress without requiring situations to change. The methods are highly effective and affordable because:
- They are taught as educational knowledge so they avoid stigma associated with mental health counseling.
- Because they are educational, they do not trigger marking boxes on professional licensing documentation that would indicate an individual has received counseling.
- They are taught in large groups because the program teaches participants advanced and transformational strategies that reduce stress and enable them to feel better regardless of the stress level they are when they begin. The individual knows where he or she is and the techniques teach them how to reduce stress from where they are—the trainer does not need to know the details of their personal situation or struggles to teach them skills that are highly effective.
- They are affordable because they are taught to large groups.
- They have built-in boosters that not only maintain progress; they serve to increase results over time.
- The program improves many areas that are known to improve:
|· Cognitive abilities|
· Pro-health decisions
· Immune function
· Digestive function
· Emotional Intelligence (EQ)
· Growth Mindset
· Goal orientation
· Negotiation Skills
· Employee Engagement
· Co-worker civility
|· Clarity of thought|
· Corporate citizenship
· Psychological Flexibility
· Core self-evaluations
· Customer satisfaction
- The cost savings from increasing the above desirable outcomes more than offsets the cost of the program and reduces the risk of work stress related lawsuits by demonstrating the application of best practices.