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By:  Patricia McHugh Lambert, Esquire

Have you ever walked a tight rope at work?

How about in bell bottom pants? Or high heels or working boots?

Over the years, I have written about errors and omission claims from a legal perspective.  I’ve discussed how lack of documenting conversations can lead to claims against insurance professionals. I have written about how lack of understanding of particular insurance products can lead to claims.  I have written about how special relationships can create special responsibilities.

I have written about how if an insurance professional holds himself out as specially skilled (i.e. better than other insurance producers the insured may have had in the past and/or the best in handling certain “unusual” needs) and an insured relies on that representation, then a court could later hold that there is a special enough relationship to impose additional duties on the insurance producer.  Or if the insured gives you something extra on the side, perhaps even an extra exchange of money, then a court could hold that the insured was entitled to expect something more. All these things can lead to claims against insurance professionals.

Until now, I have not written about what I consider to be the greatest risk for errors and omission claims—being unbalanced.  Too often insurance professionals find themselves dealing with the stress of work, family crisis, health issues, and occasionally depression.  When the stress becomes too much, then work life becomes a tightrope.

When you walk on a tight rope, when you fear falling down, when you are overly stressed…Well, you can make mistakes.  And when you make mistakes, then there can be error and omission claims. These claims can adversely impact your reputation, your financial footprint and your personal relationships.

This column is about how to rebalance so that the tightrope seems more like a plank than a thread.  For some, such words will not be enough; professional guidance will be needed.  If you feel like you need professional help, you probably do and you should seek such help.  If for no other reason, a person who is suffering a mental health issue should recognize that they will do their jobs better—that they will make less mistakes—if they seek help.

For others who have become unbalanced, I wanted to discuss a few tools you can use to find your equilibrium by presenting three hypotheticals.

Hypothetical 1

Imagine you have a big presentation at your work.  Even though you have so much to do, there is another emergency file that comes in.  What do you do to rebalance?

  • Say “yes” and then cancel all life plans.
  • Ignore the request.
  • Have a candid conversation with the powers that be because you cannot work 24/7.
  • Ask for help and prioritization.

There is, of course, no one answer that fits every scenario—but all of these options need to be considered.  Warren Buffet said that “the difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”  So we need to reintroduce this two-letter word into professional vocabulary.

From an errors and omissions perspective, saying no can reduce claims.  We want to do our best work, but too often we overcommit and then underperform.  By saying ‘no’ with an explanation, we can rebalance by realism about pending workloads.  Professionals need to be stingy with their time when they are unbalanced. And they need to be honest with  their colleagues (and themselves) about the need for help.

Hypothetical 2

Imagine it is 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. You are hiking in the woods with your family to decompress and your phone starts to ding with work emails…. repeatedly. What do you do?

  • Read the messages as you walk and respond (while avoiding tripping over tree roots).
  • Silence the notifications (preferably before the start of the hike), this is your time.
  • Throw your phone into the creek and tell your boss on Monday that your dog ate it.

Again, there is no one right answer, but conscious disconnecting must be considered.  Scientific studies demonstrate that too much screen time can negatively impact health.  Some studies even show that technology—or at least too much of its use—can actually impair parts of the brain responsible for compassion and empathy.  Getting away—disconnecting for at least a while—can reduce stress and anxiety.  Disconnecting can reduce errors at work.

Hypothetical 3

Satisfying social needs in a healthy way is significantly associated with a healthy work-life balance.  There is a saying–People will forget what you did, but they will remember how you made them feel. But the reverse is true as well. A professional does better work—and makes less errors—when they keep work relationships healthy.

So for the last hypothetical, imagine X is not the best co-worker. (X complains about everything from workload to clients to colleagues.) X wants to talk to you and you are too busy to listen to their complaints.  What do you do?

  • Quickly slam your door (or phone). Not today, X!
  • Allow them to talk. You like to hear the drama and X always knows the latest.
  • Tell X that you are busy and ask that they connect with you at another time that fits your schedule.

The healthy choice is to minimize toxins…and not just the chemical kind.  Toxic co-workers, family, friends, etc. are time consuming and draining.  It is healthier to be surrounded by positive and supportive people—and to limit exposure to people with poor attitudes.

So what else can I do?

This article is not intended to be a “this is how you fix your life” article; rather, it is an article about how making changes by rebalancing can reduce errors and claims.

But do get some sleep.  Lack of sleep impacts long and short-term memory.  Concentration, creativity and problem solving are impacted.  And we all know of the dangers of driving a car when we are sleep deprived.  So to reduce errors get some sleep.

Finally, science says laughter boosts the immune system, protects the heart, and reduces negative emotions.  So think about what is the fun part about your job? Your life?  And find out what makes you laugh?

Finding balance is not easy. It will come with slips and stumbles.  But we will all feel better if we sometimes get off the tightrope.

Patricia McHugh Lambert is an insurance lawyer that can be reached at She welcomes your input and questions.