Seven out of 10 lawyers say being a carer damaged their health

Denis-Smith: Offering flexibility is vital

More than seven out of 10 lawyers have said that being a carer has damaged either their mental or physical health, a report to mark Carers Week has found.

Researchers said a similar majority of lawyers with caring responsibilities had used their annual leave to care for someone else, with self-employed lawyers reducing their working time and incomes.

“The toll of caring has an overwhelmingly negative impact on carers’ mental and physical health.

“The relentlessness of being a carer, along with the additional pressures of work, can result in many carers feeling anxious, overwhelmed, sleep-deprived or burning out.”

While 77% of lawyers said their mental health had been affected by being a carer, 70% said their physical health had suffered. A similar proportion, 73%, had taken annual leave to carry out caring responsibilities.

“Others surveyed pointed out that they are self‑employed and therefore do not have the option of taking traditional ‘annual leave’ so they wind up having to just reduce their working time (and therefore income).”

The report, Mind the caring gap, by City law firm RPC, mental health charity LawCare and equality project Next 100 Years, was based on responses from 235 legal professionals earlier this year, half of whom were partners in law firms, barristers or judges. Nine out of 10 (89%) were women. In-depth interviews were carried out by RPC’s responsible business team.

They were split on whether they identified with the term ‘carer’, but either way a majority (57%) said being a carer had damaged their career progression, with 54% saying it had affected their work more generally.

The report said: “Juggling caring responsibilities and work can feel like a mammoth task, and for many of the carers we spoke to, considerations around career progression and pay were often deprioritised.”

Two-thirds of lawyers said they had “either unpaid or no support at all” for their role as carer, and where organisations provided support, only 30% used it.

Researchers said this was “partly because of time and accessibility”, and partly because the support available was not appropriate.

They went on: “A common theme throughout the interviews and survey responses was that flexibility is key. The unpredictability of what the caring role may require on any given day often means planning is difficult – appointments get changed, those being cared for become unwell, administration work piles up and workloads may change.”

Researchers recommended that employers ensure flexibility, “trusting that carers want to work and will work as hard as they can”.

Managers, “who can make the most positive difference to a carer”, should be trained to support team members with caring responsibilities.

Organisations should introduce carer’s leave policies and recognise that women are “overwhelmingly taking on carer’s responsibilities”. Caring should be “factored into” career progression.

Rachel Pears, head of responsible business at RPC, commented: “Balancing a demanding legal career with caregiving responsibilities requires firms to foster inclusive and supportive cultures.

“By implementing policies that address the unpredictable and emotional nature of caring, legal professionals can thrive in their careers while fulfilling their caregiving roles, receiving the support they need to succeed in both areas.”

Dana Denis-Smith, founder of the Next 100 Years and chief executive of Obelisk Support, added: “Women are more likely to take on caring responsibilities, and for many it has an impact on their careers. Pay and progression take a back seat, while carers prioritise stability and focus on juggling pressures that employers might not be aware of.

“Offering flexibility to balance work with caring responsibilities is vital but we need to normalise part-time and flexible work in the legal sector.

“If the legal profession can get this right, it will benefit from dedicated and loyal employees, see less attrition and ultimately more women taking on senior positions.”

Elizabeth Rimmer, chief executive of LawCare, added: “We all share a common goal of a diverse and sustainable legal sector, where everyone feels equally valued and can thrive.

“To achieve this, we need to implement working practices that support the mental wellbeing of everyone and address the inequalities faced by those with caring responsibilities to ensure that they have an equal chance to reach their potential and contribute positively to the legal sector.”

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