Guest post from Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare
Anxiety, the theme of this Mental Health Awareness Week, is pervasive amongst legal professionals and is one of the top three reasons people turn to LawCare for emotional support.
We all know law is a demanding profession. The work is detail orientated and the stakes are high – property, business, family life, immigration status or freedom can all be at risk. Lawyers are trained to be pessimists, looking for what could go wrong and are expected to anticipate and mitigate those future threats to protect their clients’ interests.
This means lawyers often develop perfectionist traits, setting unrealistic standards for themselves and becoming harshly self-critical, with a tendency to overthink and ruminate. A perfect storm for anxiety to take hold.
There are steps that individuals can take to reduce their feelings of anxiety, but it’s important for leaders and managers to be proactive in supporting staff to manage anxiety. By doing so, staff are less likely to experience work related mental ill-health.
Workplace anxiety can involve feeling nervous, apprehensive, tense or stressed about work and causes individuals to worry about a range of issues such as job performance, making mistakes, doubting their suitability for a career in the law or relationships with colleagues.
Heavy workloads, poor management, long working hours, a lack of autonomy and difficult relationships with colleagues are all causes of anxiety in the workplace and are everyday features of working life in the law.
The Health and Safety Executive has found that stress, anxiety and depression account for more than half of all work-related sickness absence. Workplace anxiety is an issue that employers cannot ignore and cannot be left to the individual to manage on their own.
Those with people management responsibilities have a significant impact on the mental health of the colleagues they support.
In our Life in the Law study published in 2021, we found that the most valued mental health support in the workplace was regular catch-ups. Yet less than half those with people management responsibilities had had any relevant training.
A recurring theme was simply the desire to be ‘heard’ and listened to. Having regular catch-ups in place develops trusting relationships and can help reduce anxiety; they also foster psychological safety, a space where someone can raise a concern, admit a mistake, ask a question, or ask for help, without the fear of negative repercussions.
It is crucial that managers have the skills they need to develop the skills to support colleagues experiencing anxiety, know how to spot the signs and feel confident to have a conversation with someone about their mental health.
So this week, LawCare has published new guidance for leaders and people managers on workplace anxiety.
With greater scrutiny both from regulators and insurers on workplace culture, there is increasing onus on managers and leaders to identify and manage workplace risks to mental health.
Staff experiencing anxiety who are struggling alone are more likely to make a mistake, make a poor ethical decision or leave their job, which can have significant consequences both for the individual and their employer.
It’s not words, mission statements or ESG positions on a website that define a culture – it’s those everyday habits of how things get done and how people behave. Leaders and managers who champion a mental health friendly culture put their people first and invest in, and strengthen, the people management in their organisations.
They know anxiety is not just for Mental Health Awareness Week.
LawCare is the mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession offering free, confidential, emotional support, peer support, and resources to those working in the law. If you need support, call us on 0800 279 6888, email firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.lawcare.org.uk.