Guest post by Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare
There is a strong proven business case for law firms to promote good physical and mental health for all staff – it leads to greater productivity, better morale, better retention of valued and experienced staff, and reduced sickness absence.
The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce held a special roundtable on this topic in late November, chaired by James Pereira QC, alongside an expert panel of senior leaders and mental health champions: John Blain, partner at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer; Henrietta Hill QC of Doughty Street Chambers; and Anna Robinson, psychotherapist and senior solicitor at Laura Devine.
They agreed that changes in operations, culture and leadership are needed to create a mentally healthy workplace and remove stigma around mental health.
Here are some tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace:
Wellbeing is a leadership duty. Getting senior leaders on board shows staff that wellbeing matters.
Training senior managers in leadership and mental health – making staff wellbeing part of their job role – is the best way to begin to change the culture of an organisation.
Introduce mental health days or personal days as well as sick days – people will feel they can take a day off if they are struggling and this means they may be less likely to go off sick later.
Encourage colleagues to treat each other with respect, say hello, say thank you, not raise their voice or threaten each other. Make sure there are clear and effective systems in place for reporting bullying.
Encourage the sharing of stories from people within the firm or invite a speaker in – lived experiences can help break down stigma and stereotypes.
Use existing internal communications channels to talk about wellbeing, and encourage mental health champions – people at all levels talking openly about mental health.
Sign the Time to Change pledge – this sends a clear message that it’s okay to talk about mental health.
Having the time to pursue the things we enjoy and spend time with friends and family is vital to wellbeing.
Encourage everyone to work sensible hours – staff will take cues from how leaders behave. Take full lunch breaks, rest and recuperate after busy periods, avoid working at weekends, and take annual leave entitlement. Make sure teams are well resourced in order to make this happen.
Flexible working, in terms of working time, location or pattern of working, can support healthier and more productive ways of working for all staff and benefit everyone through increased morale, commitment, productivity and reduced sickness absence.
Flexible working can be a vital early intervention to prevent mental health problems from getting worse and can support a phased return to work after a period of sickness absence.
Learning and development
Everyone needs to feel valued and supported, and that their work is meaningful – a positive culture that values all staff and invests in their skills and development builds the trust and integrity essential to maintain commitment and productivity levels.
Managers should make themselves available for regular work-related conversations with employees.
Embed mental health in inductions and training; staff will understand how mental health is managed and what support is available.
Provide mental health training for all staff so they are aware about what to look out for in colleagues and how to support them and signpost them for help.
Mentoring and peer support
Peer support can allow colleagues to support one another outside the line-management structure and offers a great way to maximise the range of skills and experience held within your firm.
Mentoring and buddy schemes can help new staff to understand your firm faster and can support all staff to gain confidence and develop new skills.
Ensure too that colleagues feel able to admit any mistakes they have made.
The Legal Professions Wellbeing Taskforce is a cross-profession taskforce set up to promote and support good mental health and wellbeing across the legal community.
Members of the taskforce include the Law Society, LawCare, the Bar Council, the SRA, CILEx, CILEx Regulation, CILEx Law School, the Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, the Institute of Paralegals, the University of Law, BPP, Newcastle University, the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society, the Young Barristers Committee, the Judicial Office, and the Bar Standards Board.
LawCare provides a free confidential helpline for all branches of the legal profession: call 0800 279 6888, 365 days a year. Additional information, resources and factsheets are available here.