Posted June 29, 2006 by

Holding on Too Tight — The Best Way to Kill a Relationship

One of the things I do is provide career development advice and coaching to job seekers and those who are employed. One of the other things I do is provide evaluation and then advice on various internal business issues that need a solution or a better way of getting the work done. Yet another thing that I do is network. Actually, it’s simply chatting with people about this, about that, and just getting to know them.
So it was that I had an interesting opportunity to do some organizational development as well as career coaching.


The paralegal expressed some disappointment with the job. As our conversation evolved, it turned out that the lawyer was delegating not only increasing amounts of legal work, but also personal errands and business, and other extraneous things. The paralegal finds the boss to be an agreeable person but the “work” was beginning to consume the one person and make the real business of being a paralegal secondary. My acquaintance was thinking about looking for a new job. What I heard was a person in one of the later stages of burnout.
Now if the real, 9-to-5 work is satisfying and it’s this maddening extraneous stuff that driving one up the wall, then maybe it’s time to delegate a different way or even stop delegating the personal life. I could tell by certain things said in the conversation that this was not a work relationship that was evolving into something more. It was simply an overworked lawyer depending too much on the single employee.
It would have been good to talk with the lawyer, just have a casual conversation and observe that the paralegal seemed to be doing a lot of extra stuff instead of getting the pleadings (or whatever) prepared for court, the documents ready for signature, the research completed and written up, the calendar and docket kept up to date. Why is the paralegal taking your laundry to the cleaners?
Work stress, it was found in an Ohio 2002 study of public employees, can be the cause of an abnormally high rate of attrition. Some factors influencing staff to leave were:

  • too many work responsibilities
  • taking on the additional responsibilities with no corresponding increase in salary
  • too many requirements for advancement
  • more money elsewhere
  • no time for personal relationships
  • too many late night meetings, and
  • conflict with values

The findings indicated that communication was one of the keys to working through issues such as difficulty with personal expectations, unclear priorities, and too much work. Interestingly, those were essentially the complaints of the paralegal. We continued to chat. Then, it was time to offer suggestions for solutions. It was time to recommend making the lawyer aware that the dependency was becoming overwhelming and that the paralegal would prefer to cut back to being just a paralegal.
Apparently they had the conversation. It’s more than six months ago that we had our encounter. Once in a while I go into the office and still see the paralegal. “How are things going?” I ask. “Just fine,” is the response.

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