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How do we 🔥 ignite 🔥 instead of burn out?
Design Your Delta can help.
I just finished reading Paul Davis’s new book Beating Burnout at Work.I read it pretty much in one fell swoop, and the more I read, the more excited I became.
As Alyson and I put together frameworks and develop workshops (to activate the frameworks) around the Delta Model and Design Your Delta (DYD) tools, I’ve become more and more convinced that DYD can play a significant role in moving legal professionals from burnout to igniting in our work—to thriving.
And, this is a question that constantly drives me to do this work: How might we move from burning out to THRIVING in the legal profession? (Starting in law school!)
I believe DYD can help. Specifically, by addressing the root causes of burnout, all of which are drawn from research on conditions for thriving, and a central focus in Paula’s book. A DYD approach can help create:
Autonomy and support around opportunities for continuous learning and growth
Structure and clarity around roles and identifying goals that are specific, challenging, and attainable — supported by resources that are known and available
High-quality connections supported by effective communication and feedback
Clear sources of meaning and impact
The Delta Model itself creates structure, clarity, transparency, and connections. How we use it—at the individual, team, and organizational levels—through playbooks and tools supports upstream conditions for thriving.
The ABCs (and D) of thriving
In Beating Burnout at Work, Paula also dives into two primary building blocks of thriving: psychological safety and psychological needs. I will be dedicating an entire post to the former. Here, I want to touch briefly on the latter: our psychological needs.
Meeting these needs is integral to thriving. Quite simply, we can’t thrive in an environment devoid of them. They are essential for our growth, our high performance levels, and our well-being at work. What are they? Paula refers to them as the “ABCs”:
A is for Autonomy. You feel that you have a choice about how/when you do your work, you have a say in how things are done, and you can make decisions about your work and your professional trajectory. Lack of autonomy is one of the most powerful predictors of burnout.
B is for Belonging. You feel connected to others in your work, that you belong in ways that are important and significant to you; you feel cared for, and you value creating strong relationships in your work.
C is for Competence. You feel that you’re improving in ways that are important to you, that you are effective in your role, and you want to continue to grow and develop as a professional, mastering new competencies.
Might I suggest that D is for Design Your Delta? Because DYD activates the ABCs.
At the individual level, using the DYD framework starts with autonomy over your professional trajectory. It connects you into the structure of your organization in a way that transparently reveals how your work “fits” and why it matters—how you belong. And, it creates a clear path for supporting your continuous growth as you climb your S-curve of learning to achieve not only competence but mastery.
While the individual impact is critical, the work must first be done at the organizational (system) level to pivot from the culture of burnout we’re now experiencing into a culture of thriving.
Triggers for real and lasting change?
What does it take, for us to act on this tidal wave of burnout? Perhaps what we’re learning from the covid pandemic experience will finally push us into meaningful action. To wit:
📈 Associate attrition rates in corporate law firms are skyrocketing, currently approaching 25%.Also rising are rates of reported burnout as workloads expand seemingly unthrottled.
😣 Law students are reporting nearly universally high levels of emotional and mental exhaustion in the pandemic.
🤯 Law school faculty, particularly women of color, are facing increased [emotional] workloads in the pandemic, exacerbating a system that already placed a known toll on autonomy to chart an authentic path in legal academia. All of which is a recipe for burnout.
No one panacea exists to solve the very wicked problem that is burnout. And, I believe the Delta Model as activated through Design Your Delta offers a meaningful path to designing new, better ways of doing our work, whether as law students, law professors, or practicing lawyers.
We all deserve to ignite in our work. And thrive. 🔥
24 January 2022
I highly recommend Beating Burnout at Work — it’s a quick, easy read full of tools to create conditions for thriving at the individual, team, and organizational level.
See “Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry,” World Psychiatry (2016). As reported in this research, workload (too much) and autonomy (lack of) are the primary driving factors behind burnout in professional workers.
See “The Value of Belonging at Work,” Harvard Business Review (2019). “Exclusion is damaging because it actually hurts: the sensation is akin to physical pain. And it’s a sting we’ve all experienced at one time or another. To feel left out is a deeply human problem, which is why its consequences carry such heft and why its causes are so hard to root out of even the healthiest workplaces.” And, it probably doesn’t help that according to this research, lawyers are officially the loneliest profession: “In a breakdown of loneliness and social support rates by profession, legal practice was the loneliest kind of work[.]”
In his book Drive (2011), Dan Pink (who was trained as a lawyer) delves into decades of research showing that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are the primary human motivators that support high performance and satisfaction in work and life.
See 2021 Report on the State of the Legal Market, The Center on Legal Ethics and the Legal Profession at Georgetown University Law Center and Thomson Reuters Institute (2022)
See “ANALYSIS: Survey Finds Lawyer Burnout Rising, Well-Being Falling,” Bloomberg (June 18, 2021)
See The COVID Crisis in Legal Education: 2021 Annual Survey Results (Law School Survey of Student Engagement): “The overwhelming majority of law students (91%) reported that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in at least ‘some’ increase in mental or emotional exhaustion; a full 49% noted that it did so ‘very much.’”
See “Investigating Pandemic Effects On Legal Academia” (Meera Deo, June 16, 2021) Women, and particularly women of color, are experiencing an increase in the level of academic caretaking expected of them along with an increase in student service, at the same time caretaking demands (in families and larger communities) outside of work have skyrocketed.