How do staff in the legal sector feel about their wellbeing at work?

Graham Pembrey
Graham PembreyHead of health content at Bupa

Graham Pembrey, head of health content at Bupa, reviews the results for the legal sector from their 2019 Workplace Wellbeing Census.

Disabled business person writing on board

At the end of 2019 Bupa partnered with YouGov to release our Workplace Wellbeing Census: a report into how employees in Britain really feel about their wellbeing. The census compares the different experiences of 4,007 people who work in businesses big and small across 12 industry sectors. This included 283 employees working in the legal sector.

Bupa asked people to think of ‘wellbeing’ as their emotional outlook, as well as the physical, mental, social and environmental factors that influence it, both positively and negatively.

Bupa’s findings show that factors such as a person’s salary and the quality of the relationship they have with their line manager can all have an impact on wellbeing at work.

Bupa’s key findings in the legal sector

  • Colleagues had a positive wellbeing impact for 57% of legal employees. This was one of the highest percentages for this question among the sectors we included.
  • Salary was a significant factor for legal employees when it came to their wellbeing (40%).
  • Workload had a negative impact on wellbeing for 46% of legal employees: a higher percentage than for any other sector we surveyed.
  • Wellbeing services – such as health insurance, mental health support, access to confidential phone lines, gyms and financial support – were available to 45% of legal employees. This compared to an average for all employees across sectors of 48%.
  • 74% of legal employees rated their overall wellbeing as ‘good’ while 25% rated their overall wellbeing as ‘poor’ (the remaining 1% felt unsure). This compared to an average 76% good rating and a 23% poor rating for all industries we surveyed.

The importance of colleagues

Across all sectors, our census results suggested that the factor that has the most positive impact on your wellbeing at work is your relationship with the people you work with every day. 57% of legal employees said this was the case, suggesting there’s value in law firms fostering a sociable workplace where co-workers can support one another. With many people working from home at the moment, building a collaborative team has to be done differently.

Jacqui Hall, a Bupa Mental Wellbeing Nurse, says: “Developing good relationships with your colleagues can help you to create a support network at work. This can be particularly important if you work in a high-pressure industry like law. Checking in with each other – particularly when we can’t gauge how people are feeling and what they are coping with face-to-face – is really important. One thing that many employees are saying has helped is non-work chats or ‘good news’ email or message board threads. Many people have found that they have been getting to know their colleagues more personally and that an insight into everyone’s home life has helped them to bond.”

Workload

Having an honest conversation about workloads is key. 46% of legal employees told us their workload is negatively affecting their wellbeing. There are signs that lockdown has further increased the pressure on many employees to work long hours and balance competing work and home life demands.

If you’re a manager, looking to review the way your team manages its workload could be a useful exercise. But it’s vital you uncover the root cause of the problem before making any changes. Completing a mental health review, to explore how things are in your team right now, is a good place to start.

Businesses should also consider equipping their teams with the tools to work flexibly. Giving people the freedom to tailor their workload when they need to can pre-empt any negative impact on their wellbeing.

Jacqui says: “Watch out for burnout. There is a temptation for many of us to push ourselves harder than normal during this time to make up for all the disruption happening. But looking after your physical and emotional wellbeing is more important than anything else right now – and in the long run you’ll be more productive for it too.”

Wellbeing services

Across sectors, Bupa found that 67% of employees with access to health and wellbeing services at work value them. Yet Bupa found that whether you have access or not largely depends on the size of company you work for. Employees working for large companies are more likely to have access to support, compared to employees in smaller businesses.

In smaller organisations, where teams may be compact, poor employee wellbeing can have far-reaching consequences. Losing a team member even for a few days because they’re unwell can increase the pressure on other employees to pick up the slack.

Jacqui says: “Staff should be reminded of the support available to them, whether this is an Employee Assistance Programme occupational health support or another way that management are able to help. The current crisis is an ideal time for employers and managers to review the services they make available.”


Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.

Explore the mental health and coronavirus wellbeing resources for solicitors and legal firms we published for #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

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