09:50

Work/Life balance

I sat next to a partner of one of the bigger London law firms recently. He told me, almost with pride, that they lose nearly 30% of their new intake within the first year.

I wasn't surprised. All the young commercial lawyers I have met work punishing hours - fourteen hour days are normal and often for seven days a week. And you need to remember that none of these young people are workshy;  they have come from Oxbridge or the Ivy League where no one sits on their arses like they used to - or I did anyway. All of those that I have spoken to have been hanging on by their fingertips and bitterly aware that there is a life going on in the outside world that they are missing. But they hang on because the prospect of making partner is an Eldorado in the world that they inhabit almost to the exclusion of anything else.

When I questioned the wisdom of having that level of wastage, the partner had  the same attitude as most senior doctors to the young medical students doing their time as housemen - we all did it, so why shouldn't they?

What neither consider is the quality of the work that these corporate drones are putting out. And what damage the inevitable divorces and long term exhaustion will have on the partnership. There is nothing wrong with hard work - but the true cost is not being counted. 

In contrast to this, the boss of a small City firm I heard interviewed has a quite different approach. He gives everyone in the company one day off every fortnight. He claims that it is the best thing he's ever done - because nobody really takes it. They use that day to go to the doctor, attend the children's sports day or wait in for the telephone engineer. Their phones are always on and their laptops with them. He has almost no sick days and negligible staff turnover. The system is entirely self policing: anyone seen to be abusing it is sat on hard by their peers - and weekend work is undertaken willingly. He believes his productivity has greatly improved.

Who's got it right?
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