Supporting wellbeing in the workplace: guidance for best practice
It focuses on three themes:
- education and training
The guidance includes storyboards with practical steps that you can use to approach wellbeing conversations with employees.
It also features case studies from firms including Pinsent Masons, Farrer & Co, Macfarlanes, Freeths, Giles Wilson and Thrive Law.
It's relevant to firms of all sizes, with specific recommendations for different sizes of firm.
This guidance has been designed for solicitors, managers, learning and development, diversity and inclusion and HR professionals.
It applies to lawyers at any stage of their career, as well as business services support staff. The guidance is also transferable across other industry sectors.
In early 2019, the Junior Lawyers Division did a survey of its members to gather data on the wellbeing of junior lawyers.
The survey found that more than 93% of respondents had experienced stress in their role in the previous month, with almost a quarter of those individuals being severely or extremely stressed. One in 15 junior lawyers (6.4%) reported experiencing suicidal thoughts in the month before they took the survey.
The guidance is intended to support employers in tackling this issue and promoting healthy workplaces.
In recent times the legal profession has been making the headlines in the national press for all of the wrong reasons. In May 2019, The Times reported that there is a looming mental health crisis facing the profession, highlighting that all is not well. A common theme emerging from many of the reports is the high levels of negative stress and poor wellbeing being experienced by lawyers at all levels across the profession.
Working in the legal profession can be challenging. In the recent survey undertaken by Lexis Nexis (The Bellwether Report 2019: Stress in the Legal Profession — Problematic or Inevitable), the report asks “is stress just an inevitable part of being a solicitor” and “has stress become so normalised in the legal profession that the lines are blurred between what is normal and what requires help to address?”.
The survey found that almost 66% of solicitors currently experience high levels of stress with three-quarters stating that stress and mental wellbeing is a major issue for the legal profession.
As solicitors, we all know the demands of the job and most of us are likely to say that we work well under pressure and that we need some form of pressure to perform at our best. Unfortunately,
when that pressure develops into negative stress, it can begin to adversely affect our performance and efficiency.
Experiencing prolonged periods of stress can have a negative impact not only on our mental health but also our physical health.
The Law Society’s work
For the last three years the Junior Lawyers Division of The Law Society of England and Wales has been undertaking research into the levels of stress and mental ill-health experienced by junior lawyers.
On Time to Talk Day in February 2018, the first version of this guidance was launched to provide best practice to employers on supporting resilience and wellbeing in the workplace.
It is good to see how far the legal profession has come and how the wellbeing conversations have developed since the Junior Lawyers Division’s first resilience and wellbeing survey in 2017.
Many employers are now taking active steps to support their employees’ wellbeing and are treating the wellbeing of their people as a key asset of their business.
Whilst it is great to see such momentum for supporting employees’ wellbeing in the workplace, we need to ensure that it does not become a tick-box exercise and that there is genuine commitment from the top of the organisation to get behind it.
It is great to have received feedback that many law firms and organisations employing lawyers have been using this guidance as a basis for developing their wellbeing strategies.
Research (specifically regarding junior lawyers)
In the 2019 survey, just over 1,800 junior lawyers responded to the survey.
Over 93% of junior lawyers reported experiencing stress at work with almost a quarter of those reporting severe or extreme levels of stress.
The main causes of work-related stress were cited as being high workload, client demands and expectations, lack of support and ineffective management – all of these factors are in an employer’s control to change.
The main impact caused by work-related stress was disrupted sleep, a negative impact on mental health and experiencing problems with family life or relationships.
Alarmingly, one in 15 junior lawyers reported experiencing suicidal thoughts as a result of stress at work.
In relation to mental ill-health, 48% of junior lawyers reported experiencing mental ill-health in the month leading up to taking the survey (this is a significant increase from the 38% reported in 2018 and 26% reported in 2017).
Only one in five of those experiencing mental ill-health had told their employer.
Almost 60% considered taking time off work as a result, however, under 20% actually took time off work as a result.
Three quarters of junior lawyers said their employer could do more to support both stress at work and mental health.
It was pleasing to see responses from some junior lawyers that their employer was developing or implementing a wellbeing strategy at their organisation.
Many respondents advised that the organisation had set up a wellbeing taskforce or committee and that their organisation had implemented wellbeing champions or trained mental health first aiders.
These are all brilliant steps to create a mentally healthy workplace and provide employees with different channels to seek support and be signposted to relevant organisations. It goes to the root of an organisation’s culture and creates an environment where employees are prepared to speak up about their mental health.
Disappointingly, a large proportion of junior lawyers reported that their employers were either doing nothing, or despite discussion and good intentions, very little was being done in terms of
making the practical changes necessary to help.
Many commented on the need for employers to address the root cause of work-related stress in relation to workloads, unrealistic and unnecessary client deadlines and staff shortages (qualified fee-earners and support staff).
We included a new question in the 2019 survey to ascertain junior lawyers’ views on what more their employer could be doing to support their mental health and the levels of stress they were experiencing in the workplace.
Many junior lawyers commented that their employer said publicly that they were committed to supporting wellbeing but that they were unaware of what their organisation was doing in this regard and that they did not know where to find information on what was available.
Junior lawyers were clear that for a wellbeing strategy to be successful, it had to be embraced from the top down to ensure engagement across the organisation. There were repetitive themes around culture and organisations needing to change to create an open door culture where employees felt comfortable to raise issues internally and talk openly without the fear of reprisal.
Many junior lawyers complained of the work-life imbalance and the lack of support and resources provided to them in their roles.
There were a number of responses from junior lawyers about taking time off work for mental health related reasons. There was a specific complaint about employers having a cap on
the number of sick days an employee could take before it triggered the organisation’s performance management processes.
There were a number of comments from junior lawyers who felt they could not be honest with their employers about absences due to their mental ill health.
Instead of informing their employer they were unwell with mental health related issues, they had made up other reasons as they did not feel comfortable disclosing the truth about their
visit to their GP or counselling session. There was a suggestion that employers could consider having specific absence days for mental health.
Many junior lawyers noted the importance of talking, citing helplines and counselling services as being very valuable (in circumstances where counselling services could be obtained as they
were so over-subscribed).
There were also a number of mentions of the support provided by LawCare and, in particular, its confidential advice line. LawCare is also now piloting a new web-chat service which gives those working in the legal profession and their families another avenue to seek confidential support.
The Thriving at Work: Stevenson/Farmer review of mental health and employers was commissioned by former prime minister, Theresa May, in January 2017.
The review’s report, released in October 2017, stated that "the UK faces a significant mental health challenge at work".
The report also called for professional bodies, such as the Law Society, to help with the implementation of mental health care and enhanced standards for organisations, which will help reduce the increasing cost to the economy and businesses of the worsening state of mental ill-health in the workplace.
Work conducted by Deloitte estimates that businesses are losing in excess of £1,500 per employee per year due to the costs associated with poor mental health.
For an organisation of 300 people, that equates to more than £450,000 per year.
If implemented correctly, wellbeing interventions can lead to substantial returns on investment.
For example, a professional services firm of circa 1,000 employees that invested £40,000 in mental health training saw a return on investment of £387,222 within one year (London’s Business Case for Wellbeing).
Employees that have good mental health can significantly improve an employer’s ability to attract and retain talent and boost workplace morale and productivity (which has the potential to increase realisation rates). There is therefore real value in investing time and resource to improve employees’ mental health.
Recognising and supporting mental health in the workplace can help to reduce absences, reduce the risk of mistakes, and create a positive, open and sustainable workforce.
It is encouraging to see many organisations setting employee wellbeing on board agendas and allocating budget to such initiatives.
To assist organisations in meeting some of these challenges, we've developed the following guidance aimed at reducing stigma and fostering good mental health.
The guidance has been designed to help organisations maximise their talent and it is not intended to become an additional burden.
We understand that not all of the recommendations made in this guidance are suitable for all organisations and that each organisation will need to consider, depending on its size and resources, which recommendations they are able to focus on and implement.
This document aims to provide employers with helpful guidance on best practice to support the wellbeing of its employees.
Whilst this guidance has been prepared with the legal profession in mind, many of the recommendations can be adopted by employers in other professions.
Thank you very much to everyone who has provided me with ideas and feedback on the recommendations which form the basis of this guidance document.
I am very grateful for your help and support.
Thank you also to the Law Society’s diversity and inclusion team for supporting the production of this guidance, in particular, Sarah Alonge.
A special thanks to Nick Bloy (founder of Wellbeing Republic) for his ongoing invaluable support in relation to all of the initiatives he has assisted with for the benefit of the legal profession including his contributions to this guidance document.
Nick has penned the introduction to each of the sections on culture, education and training, and support to provide greater context and share some of the science and research that underpins their importance.
Have you got buy in from the top?
Is wellbeing on your agenda at board level?
Have you got senior leaders willing to speak openly about mental health?
Is there a genuine commitment from managers to support wellbeing at work?
Have you asked your employees what support and training they would like to see available?
Do your employees know what support and training is currently available to them?
Are your employees engaged?
Are your employees happy to support wellbeing initiatives?
We have a collective responsibility to safeguard and promote the wellbeing of employees in the workplace.
To support employers with creating mentally healthy workplaces, this guidance focuses on three key areas:
- education and training
The stigma surrounding mental ill-health in the legal profession is still rife.
To tackle this effectively, there needs to be a culture change across the profession. The guidance is therefore focused on tangible measures that employers can adopt to effect meaningful positive change within their organisations.
Defining the culture of an organisation is difficult and orchestrating change in culture is a real challenge.
In order to create a positive working culture there must be buy-in from those at the top of the organisation.
It's essential that all employees feel that their organisation’s culture enables them to openly talk about issues concerning them, including their wellbeing and mental health, if they wish to do so.
This is also a crucial step to tackle the stigma of discussing mental ill-health across the legal profession.
Education and training
To empower employees to thrive in the workplace, employers need to invest in the right training for their employees and managers.
The guidance sets out best practice for educating and training across all levels of seniority.
It's important for managers to understand the link between wellbeing and performance.
If managers are trained with the necessary skills, they will be better placed to effectively support their employees and, in turn, their wellbeing.
If managers are able to spot warning signs at an early stage that an employee is in difficulty, they will be able to offer support earlier and take proactive steps to avoid the situation escalating.
It's good that many employers already have some form of support in place such as a dedicated human resources team or access to an employee assistance programme through the organisation’s insurance policy.
The guidance outlines many different areas in which employers can provide to its employees.
The guidance also contains a list of organisations which provide support, guidance and advice for employees and a list of organisations which provide support and guidance for employers.
Employers need to think holistically about the support they provide to employees to enable them to effectively perform their roles.
Many lawyers have reported feeling unsupported in their roles with high workloads and ineffective management being two of the contributing factors.
Employers also need to consider the external support they put in place for their employees to access in the form of employee benefits.
What should your organisation be doing?
We are conscious that different sized organisations will have different resources available to them.
Many organisations will have already implemented several of the recommendations detailed in this guidance, while others will be starting to create their wellbeing strategy from a blank piece of paper.
The information contained in this guidance should provide you with some useful ideas on where to start and how to develop your strategy.
Culture can be hard to define and even harder to pin-down.
Organisational culture encompasses both the values and the behaviours that exist and persist, irrespective of any policies or procedures that may be in place.
It's these values and behaviours which contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation.
For wellbeing to be successfully embedded within an organisation, senior leaders need to be bought-in. Without senior leader buy-in, the culture will likely be at odds with any initiatives put in place and those initiatives will most likely fail or fall far short of their full potential.
For example, having a policy that recommends people get sufficient sleep and time off will be meaningless unless working practices empower people to set appropriate boundaries for themselves.
If there exists an email policy which states that employees do not need to check emails while on holiday or at weekends, yet senior leaders make it quite clear (whether overtly or otherwise) that they expect staff to check-in regularly, the policy will fail.
Similarly, if there is a culture of working long hours, encouraging people to leave at a reasonable hour will have little effect unless senior leaders demonstrate the behaviours themselves and encourage it more widely.
From research conducted at medium to large sized organisations in London, the majority of junior lawyers do not feel empowered to leave on time.
They associate leaving on time with feelings of shame or guilt, which is a direct consequence of the culture that exists in legal organisations currently.
Similarly, offering training on the benefits of adopting specific behaviours, such as going for a 15-minute walk at lunch, will have little effect if employees do not feel confident in stepping away from their desk at lunch for fear of it having negative career implications.
Much of the time it will be the micro expressions of senior leaders or peers, such as a raised eyebrow or a frown, that will signify whether a behaviour is deemed acceptable.
Over time, a culture is formed with its own specific rules and sub-rules, which dictate the behaviours deemed acceptable within a specific team or the broader organisation.
Another aspect of culture which is crucial for organisations to embrace if they wish to successfully embed wellbeing is psychological safety.
People’s willingness to take interpersonal risks (such as suggesting an idea, raising a concern, admitting to a mistake or showing vulnerability) without fear of negative repercussions has been shown to significantly impact the performance and wellbeing of teams.
When people feel safe, research has shown that they are more likely to speak up and offer ideas, fostering greater innovation and collaboration.
Cultivating a psychologically safe culture also helps foster a greater sense of inclusion, where people feel safe to speak up if they are experiencing a problem such as mental ill-health or discrimination.
It is also more likely to drive better ethical decision making, as people are more likely to speak up if they make a mistake.
Creating a psychologically safe environment requires leaders to lead by example and readily promote behaviours and values, such as respect, humility, vulnerability, courage and compassion.
Finally, a growing number of studies on lawyer wellbeing from across the world have identified that lawyer wellbeing is bolstered significantly when they feel competent, have autonomy and find their work meaningful.
Organisations would likely benefit significantly by finding ways to bolster these three key drivers of wellbeing.
Some examples include providing more frequent positive feedback and placing a greater emphasis on development, as well as providing lawyers with greater flexibility in their roles.
It's likely that lawyers would also appreciate having a better understanding of the context of the work they undertake and have an appreciation of how the work that they do contributes to something meaningful.
Organisation commitment statement and values
It's important for an organisation to make clear in its commitment statement and values that it is committed to supporting its employees’ wellbeing.
This commitment should extend much further than the organisation just complying with its legal obligations on health and safety and other applicable legislation.
Not everyone is motivated by money and many job applicants are now looking closely at an organisation’s culture which they can assess through its commitment statement and values.
What an organisation is doing to create a good work-life balance can therefore impact whether a candidate chooses to apply for a role.
An organisation’s commitment statement and values therefore plays a key part in a candidate’s research into an organisation.
By having a culture where employee’s wellbeing is key, it does not just help to attract talent but it also helps to retain it.
An organisation needs to ensure that the commitments and pledges it makes in its values are embedded throughout its organisation.
Those commitments should be advocated by senior leaders in the organisation and, where possible, form part of the motivating factors for employees across the business.
An organisation may wish to sign up to a charter to show its commitment to supporting its employees’ wellbeing.
There are a number of charters listed in this guide, including the Mindful Business Charter which has been specifically created for the legal community to remove unnecessary sources of workplace stress and promote better mental health and wellbeing.
Simply signing up to a charter is not enough: organisations must ensure that they are adhering to principles of the charter.
It's key for an organisation’s commitments and values to be shared from the top down. An organisation’s leadership must fully support and embody the organisation’s values in order for them to be successfully embraced across the organisation.
For an organisation to really get behind its wellbeing strategy, there must be genuine commitment to support it.
This commitment extends to challenging members of the leadership team who are not adhering to the organisation’s values.
There is not always a one size fits all approach so it may be necessary to tailor the strategy depending on the profile of the work being done by each team/department.
Leaders sharing personal stories is very valuable and employees are encouraged to open up about themselves when they can see their leaders doing the same.
Leaders must lead by example and there is very much a consensus of ‘what the boss does, prevails’. For example, if senior leaders leave early to pick up their children or come in late when it is their child’s first day of school, employees will be much more likely to feel empowered to ask to do the same.
Leaders should try to facilitate a culture whereby employees are not penalised for not being able to take on more work and they should feel that it is okay to say no without reprisal.
Leaders should celebrate good behaviours and organisations could consider implementing a recognition system to reward/celebrate employees who have looked out for each other.
Leaders could introduce “wellbeing moments” at the beginnings of team meetings so that they get into a habit of checking in with people. It could be as simple as going round the table asking everyone on a scale of 1-5 how they are feeling today.
Leaders should also look to regularly monitor ways of working to minimise stress and ensure it is not negatively impacting people’s performance and wellbeing.
They could use short simple surveys to ‘pulse-check’ their teams anonymously, particularly if the team/ department is very busy or partway through a long project/transaction.
Fostering a positive culture
For an organisation to tackle the stigma associated with mental ill-health, stress and disability, it should encourage staff empowerment, diversity and inclusion.
All employees should receive training on diversity and inclusion including unconscious bias training.
In order to ensure an organisation’s values are being embraced, it may be helpful to create a “culture code” for employees to abide by.
The culture code is essentially a list of key principles which are necessary in order to uphold the organisation’s culture and promote respectful behaviour.
By having a written culture code that can be referred to, it can be easier to challenge undesirable behaviours.
An organisation could also introduce “Culture Code Advocates” from across the organisation at all levels who are tasked with ensuring that the code is adhered to and challenge bad practice where necessary.
Joined up approach
It's important to ensure that your organisation has a joined-up approach to its wellbeing strategy which is understood and embedded across all levels of the organisation. Communication is key to ensuring that the wellbeing strategy is understood across the organisation.
Depending on the individuals/department leading on the organisation’s wellbeing work, it is easy for other individuals and departments to overlook what is being developed.
It's therefore essential for all managers across the organisation to be clear on its strategy and any future developments and be able to communicate this effectively to employees.
Employee wellbeing should be considered by all departments in an organisation and, in particular, by its human resources function.
Employees should be treated consistently and fairly and, should the organisation need to consult with employees about organisational changes, it should do so in a compassionate and collaborative way at the earliest opportunity.
Story-telling is a great way to break down any stigmas associated with mental health and build trust across an organisation.
By encouraging employees to share personal stories, in particular senior employees, other employees are encouraged to be more open about their own mental health and wellbeing.
You could choose to share such stories in a number of different ways. For example, a number of firms have produced successful This is Me campaigns in recent years.
Some organisations are now incorporating wellbeing into employees’ performance reviews which is a positive step to ingraining wellbeing in the organisation.
When looking at employee reward and promotion, it is important to consider your organisation’s values and whether the employee in question is ‘walking the walk’.
Employees should be treated in a fair and consistent manner and organisations should think carefully before rewarding undesirable behaviours and practices which undermines the organisation’s values.
As well as an employer creating a supportive working environment, employees should also take active responsibility for their own health and wellbeing by adopting good behaviours (for example in relation to diet, alcohol consumption, drugs and smoking).
Many employees reported disturbed sleep, a negative effect on mental health and problems with family life or relationships were a result of work-related stress.
Employees cited using strategies and mechanisms such as exercise and meditation/mindfulness in order to cope with these pressures.
Organisations should ensure that they are doing enough to encourage and support good behaviours, for example, if your organisation has a canteen, does it subsidise healthy nutritious food?
Although often cited as a “quick-fix”, providing employees with free fruit and access to mindfulness and yoga practices can be very beneficial for employee morale.
Thinking about alcohol consumption, historically firms have been keen to run employee events where alcohol has been freely available, which research suggests may be pressuring people to drink – does your organisation run events where the focus is not on drinking alcohol?
Working hours and breaks
The legal profession is renowned for its long working hours culture.
Client deadlines and demands and the nature of transactional or litigious based work means that resourcing is one of the most difficult things for an organisation to manage.
Employees need breaks throughout the day to ensure they are not overwhelmed and are performing at their best when they are working.
In order for employees to perform at their best they require sufficient breaks away from their work. It is important for employees to be encouraged to take their lunch break and to take it away from their desks to avoid being distracted by work.
There needs to be a clear message from the top down that taking a lunch break is normal practice.
In respect of the long hours culture, senior leaders should consider what safeguards they can put in place to ensure their employees are not working far in excess of their working hours.
They should also be leading by example and ensure that they are monitoring workloads to allocate work in an appropriate way, taking into account the workload already allocated to individuals.
A number of organisations have introduced the role of resourcing manager to allocate work and safeguard the wellbeing of team members, by ensuring employees are getting sufficient rest between deals.
Annual leave/disconnecting from work
It's important that employees, managers and human resources understand the importance of down time and switching off from work to maintain good mental and physical health.
Organisations should ensure that their employees are able (and encouraged) to switch-off from work when on annual leave.
Human resources and/or managers should play an important role in checking that employees are using their annual leave entitlement.
Employees need to maintain boundaries between their personal and working lives to ensure that they have proper down time away from work to rest and maximise their personal relationships and interests which are vital to their wellbeing.
Organisations should therefore develop and implement rules and guidelines around annual leave and disconnecting from work.
Some organisations have adopted policies which allow their employees to take paid time off at their discretion on the understanding that their client work doesn’t suffer and can be covered.
As a result of not having a set number of annual leave days, organisations have reported a reduction in days taken by reason of sickness absence and an increase in performance.
Employees should be informed about the impact a 24/7 connected culture can have on their mental health and the importance of having screen free time away from not just work but also social media.
Digital devices are extremely distracting and affect employees’ ability to do their best work.
Employees need to be able to focus and concentrate whilst working on particular tasks and they should be supported to have time offline throughout the day.
Employees are likely to be much more productive and much less distracted if they turn off email pop up notifications whilst they are working on tasks that require deep thought.
Communication is essential to create a positive working culture.
Managers should make clear what their expectations are of their employees. Often, things are left unsaid, so employees interpret what they think is being said, making things more burdensome than they need to be.
In particular, at the more junior end of the profession, junior lawyers tend to over-deliver because they are worried about asking too many questions, particularly around deadlines, or appearing like they are not keen to do the work.
Maintaining clear lines of communication helps to create a culture where people feel that they can openly ask questions.
Presenteeism and leaveism
If an organisation is committed to creating a healthy and resilient workplace, it should be prepared to challenge presenteeism (where people insist on working when they are physically or mentally unwell) and leaveism (where people continue to work whilst on holiday) to ensure that its employees do not feel obliged to work in circumstances when they are unwell or on holiday.
To maintain a healthy and happy workforce, managers should be prepared to tackle unhealthy working practices and encourage employees to take time off work when they are unwell or they are on holiday.
In more general terms, managers should also encourage employees to leave the office when they have finished their work and should not tolerate a culture whereby junior employees feel that they are unable to leave the office before their superiors.
Much of the pressure of being a lawyer comes from having to work to very tight deadlines.
Whether this be court deadlines, deadlines set by the client or deadlines set through transactional based work.
In circumstances where client or transactional deadlines are not realistic and the amount of work required in order to deliver on a deadline is unachievable, senior leaders should be prepared to challenge clients.
Senior leaders should feel confident to educate clients in respect of their working culture and explain that the deadline they are imposing is not realistic and that the organisation is not prepared to put such a burden on its employees.
Corporate social responsibility/Charity of the year
As part of corporate social responsibility programmes, many firms offer employees the ability to take time away from the normal working days to volunteer with a relevant organisation.
As well as providing essential support to the relevant charity, it also helps to create a positive working culture and motivate employees which can, in turn, improve their performance.
Organisations can also consider fundraising for a charity of the year. This can give employees the opportunity to work together to undertake fundraising initiatives which can help with team-building across the organisation.
Billable hour targets
For those working in private practice, billable hours targets are common in most organisations.
The pressure of working in a target driven industry can be difficult with many lawyers citing billable hours targets as a contributing factor of their stress at work.
Many firms have moved away from formal individual billable hour targets and have instead switched to a team or department based approach which does, to a certain extent, help to take some of the pressure off individuals.
At the time of writing, a handful of firms have removed the requirement for billable hours altogether and rely on fixed-fee and other pricing arrangements instead.
In circumstances where billable hours targets cannot be removed, organisations should ensure that their billable hours targets are realistic, reviewed regularly and that their employees are sufficiently supported in achieving their targets.
It may also be helpful for firms to publicise their billable hours targets so that individuals looking to join the firm know at the outset what would be expected of them.
Bonuses should not be awarded for unrealistic targets and bonuses should not be based solely on billable hours.
To encourage employees not to work in excess of their hours, organisations may wish to consider penalising employees for recording too many billable hours.
Many organisations are now incorporating formal agile working policies which encourage employees to work from home.
By trusting employees to do this it helps create a positive working culture and enables employees to be more productive as a result of being able to work uninterrupted.
Home-working can also help employees with a particularly long commute to avoid wasting time during their working day or those with care commitments.
Whilst it can be empowering for employees to have freedom over where they choose to work from, organisations need to ensure that employees are educated and supported to ensure that they maintain a positive work-life balance.
Without these boundaries around work and personal life, increased stress is a common occurrence resulting in people not being able to do their work effectively.
In terms of formal flexible working requests, enabling employees to work more flexibly, where possible, can also help to create a positive working culture and improve employee morale and motivation.
It is important, particularly for those working in smaller organisations, for employees to have valuable peer support.
Many larger organisations encourage their lawyers to network and socialise with their peers at similar stages in their careers. It is important that any such events hosted by organisations steer away from alcohol based networking.
Alcohol is used as a coping mechanism by many people when they are struggling with their mental health and by including alcohol in networking events it can also ostracise those that do not drink alcohol.
For lawyers working in smaller firms, organisations should encourage their employees to become members of their local Junior Lawyers Division group or local Law Society.
You can find out more information about local Junior Lawyers Division groups and local Law Societies here.
It is key for organisations to encourage peer support as looking out for each other at work can avoid behaviour that may cause stress to others.
For example, employees should be encouraged to minimise reply-all emails where they are not necessary. If your employees actively show an interest in each other and listen with empathy, they can help look out for changes in behaviour which may signal that there is a problem.
LawCare runs a peer supporters programme offering one-to-one support.
LawCare has around 100 peer supporters, all volunteers who have first-hand experience of working in the law and may have been through difficult times themselves.
They offer support, encouragement and mentoring on a range of different issues such as alcohol addiction, stress and anxiety.
You can find information about the peer support programme on LawCare’s website.
Research has shown that lawyers are much more likely to make a mistake or almost make a mistake in circumstances where they are experiencing high levels of stress.
Organisations should encourage reporting of errors by cultivating a solutions based positive learning culture.
Fear and guilt are less effective and organisations should recognise the importance of intrinsic values and motivation.
An organisation may also wish to consider setting up an anonymous whistle-blowing helpline as a tool for employees to report any concerns they may have.
It can be helpful for organisations to be more transparent with their employees about what happens when mistakes are made.
Organisations should ensure that their employees understand when they are protected by its insurance policy and how the organisation manages such a process.
Dress for your day
In recent years many organisations have adopted a more relaxed dress code with a number of firms implementing a “dress for your day” policy.
By giving your employees the ability to choose what they wear to work, this can help create a more positive working culture and allow your employees to feel more comfortable.
In order to ascertain the impact of your wellbeing strategy, it is important to monitor employees’ wellbeing to support the ongoing business case for investing in wellbeing.
Organisations should consider measuring employees’ wellbeing through surveys, absence reports, staff turnover, exit interviews and feedback from 1-2-1 catchups.
Many organisations run annual employee engagement surveys which would include specific questions about employee wellbeing.
An organisation may wish to measure the success of a specific wellbeing intervention or measure progress of the workforce’s wellbeing over time.
Organisations may find it helpful to assess the wellbeing of their employees in a way which means they can compare it against other professions.
To do this, an organisation could consider using a wellbeing scale such as the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale.
Case study: Pinsent Masons LLP
Pinsent Masons is committed to making business work better for people.
Doing business responsibly and making a positive contribution to the lives of our people, clients and the communities in which we work is a core element of that.
If business is to work better, it has to work to enable others.
Professional advisers are often in a position of privilege, so it is easy to underestimate or overlook the impact of the work they do on their wellbeing.
Mental health issues impact people at all levels and in all sectors. Changing work practices have increased those pressures significantly.
It is not good enough to just accept that as the price we have to pay. We have a responsibility to make changes.
We are committed to ending the stigma around mental health, demonstrating to all our staff that we are committed to supporting anyone who is living and working with a mental health condition, or supporting others to do so.
Our Mental Health 2020 strategy has connected all of our efforts, achieving a strategic, joined-up approach and allowing us to be bold in focusing upon areas where work is most needed; developing a Minds Matter portal, launching Mental Health Champions across our office network and adopting agile working.
In collaboration with Barclays and Addleshaw Goddard, we have developed the Mindful Business Charter (MBC), a set of principles aimed at promoting better mental health and wellbeing amongst lawyers and their clients.
The MBC focuses upon working smarter and eliminating unnecessary sources of stress in order to create a better workplace for all.
We recognise that improving mental health and wellbeing will not happen overnight – it is a programme that will take sustained effort over a number of years.
However, our initiatives have already helped teams to accept we can do things differently and, when we do, service quality and delivery will improve.
Case study: Thrive Law
The culture at Thrive is very different to most law firms.
We don't have billable hours targets, we have a huge focus on mental health and wellbeing where every employee talks openly about their wellbeing and mental health.
Jodie Hill, managing director at Thrive, is a firm believer in practising what you preach and leading the way when it comes to workplace wellbeing, adopting a refreshing approach.
All employees are empowered to share ideas and be creative too when it comes to their Thrive Women and Thriving Minds events.
At Thrive, everyone works smart, meaning hours and place of work are decided by the team. We work flexibly and at the times when we are the most productive.
We don't have billable hours targets and work on a retained or project basis, which removes the need to work long hours each day.
Welcome to the four-day week
We are always trying to be as innovative as possible and have recently begun trialling a four-day working week.
Advocates of a four-day week highlight how it can improve the wellbeing and productivity of employees.
Moreover, it is argued that an extra day off increases leisure time and helps to create a more sustainable work-life balance, which benefits employees and prevents burnout.
So, using what we call the 'condensed hours' model, all our staff have been taking one day a week, every week, to do their own thing.
We plan on sharing our thoughts throughout the trial on our social media channels, and we will be concluding with a video where we discuss what we have learned and how both the business and the employees have benefitted.
The concept of employee wellbeing has evolved significantly in recent years.
A growing number of organisations now appreciate that wellbeing constitutes much more than a weekly yoga class, the occasional health check and a suite of health benefits that rarely kick-in until something has actually gone wrong or someone has been signed off sick.
In fact, some of the most impactful wellbeing interventions that organisations have implemented are closely tied to the proactive development of employees and senior leaders, either in developing specific skills to bolster wellbeing or in tackling any stigma associated with mental ill-health.
Until the 1980s, psychology was primarily concerned with ill-being and how to make people better. Only 'better' rarely meant thriving, it simply meant free from ill-health.
According to one of the leading researchers on happiness, Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky in the US, wellbeing is much more than simply the absence of disease or ill-health; it is the experience of joy, contentment or positive wellbeing, combined with a sense that one's life is good, meaningful and worthwhile.
It is thanks to the development of positive psychology in the past few decades that we now have a much better understanding of what leads to human flourishing and optimal performance.
One of the biggest breakthroughs has been in understanding the link between wellbeing and performance.
A large body of research demonstrates that we have access to significantly greater cognitive resources and are more productive in a positive mental state than a neutral, negative or stressed state.
This is largely due to the way that our mental state reflects the biochemistry of our brain and how our brain's biochemistry affects the way our neurons work as well as how different regions of the brain communicate with one another.
Our brain's biochemistry is something that we can influence, which is why training and education can reap significant results.
There is now a much greater appreciation of how the behaviours we adopt, such as getting sufficient sleep (both in quantity and quality), can positively influence our brain's biochemistry and overall function.
Research has identified that when we don't get at least seven hours of sleep, we negatively affect the expression of more than 700 genes.
For example, genes that regulate the amount of stress hormones and inflammation that are produced are up-regulated, while genes responsible for growth and the production of natural killer cells that fight cancer are down-regulated.
Getting four hours of sleep one night was associated with a decrease of 70% in natural killer cell activity the next day.
Education and training can help leaders and employees understand the importance of prioritising self-care and good habits to maximise wellbeing and performance. Those habits may include:
- good quality sleep
- regular physical movement throughout each day
- wholesome nutrition
- making time for self-development
- ensuring quality time with friends and family
- managing finances
- creating healthy digital boundaries
Education and training can also help employees to form a healthier relationship with stress and reframe the way they approach setbacks.
It can also help people to become more self-aware, so that they can recognise warning signs in themselves much earlier, enabling them to take pro-active steps to head off a potential crisis.
Another crucial aspect of education and training is to ensure that leaders are up-skilled to understand how to cultivate happier and more successful teams.
The Junior Lawyers Division's resilience and wellbeing survey results cite poor line management as a large source of stress for junior lawyers.
Up-skilling leaders to better understand themselves and how to bring out the best in others (as well as how to better support them) should be a top priority for firms if they wish to ensure the profession is a mentally healthy one.
Leaders also have a significant role in shaping the conversation around wellbeing in their firms to reduce any stigma associated with mental ill-health. Firms should therefore think about how to up-skill leaders to fully embrace this responsibility.
It is important for managers to regularly discuss with employees their individual training needs to ensure they have the necessary skills to do their job. This could be facilitated through an appraisal process or through 1-2-1 catch-ups.
As an organisation, you should clearly outline the responsibilities of managers when it comes to managing the wellbeing of themselves and their teams.
Managers should be provided with regular training and encouraged to check-in regularly with their team members, rather than only once a year at appraisal time.
Managers should ensure that the right people are recruited for the right jobs, that they are approachable and that they delegate work fairly amongst their team.
Wellbeing can be a tricky subject for a manager to bring up with an employee if they think they are not coping. Managers should receive appropriate training to empower them to have effective conversations with their employees around wellbeing issues.
For organisations which have resourcing managers in place, there should be regular audits on allocating work by its resourcing managers.
If your organisation does not have a resourcing manager, then managers should be clear on how work is allocated and ensure that it is regularly audited.
Receiving feedback is key to enabling an employee to develop their skills and be successful in their role.
In order for managers to effectively provide feedback to employees, they should receive training in how to appropriately deliver feedback (both positive and negative).
Many lawyers reported a lack of supervision as one of the contributing factors to experiencing stress in their role.
It is essential that employees across the organisation feel adequately supervised (but not micro-managed) in their work.
Catch-ups and appraisals
It is key for all managers to understand the link between maximising performance and wellbeing.
It is important for managers to regularly check in with their team members and not just do so as part of an annual appraisal process.
Appraisals can be stressful for both the managers and the employee being appraised. Many organisations are now moving away from an annual appraisal process to instead introduce regular, more informal career conversations.
For regular informal catch-ups, it may be helpful to create a wellbeing checklist for managers to use as a basis for the discussion with employees.
Managers should spend sufficient time with their employees to build and maintain good working relations. This will help to create a more positive working culture which will, in turn, remove the fear of owning up to making mistakes.
In relation to the more formal review process or annual appraisals, organisations should consider introducing a wellbeing matrix into their performance reviews.
Organisations should also consider assessing managers on how well they have supported and managed the wellbeing of their team.
It may be helpful to provide employees with one wellbeing objective to strive towards each year, as part of their wider objectives.
Using 360 feedback can be a very good way for organisations to gain insights into how its leaders are embracing its wellbeing strategy and living by its values.
It is essential that all employees working in human resources have received appropriate training on how to best support staff at all levels of the organisation.
Strategy, policies and procedures
An organisation's wellbeing strategy should, where relevant, feed into all of its policies and procedures.
The strategy could be supported by a wellbeing policy which should be advertised internally so that all employees know where to find it. You should aim to keep it separate and avoid it being buried in a large office manual or employee handbook.
If you have an intranet that staff can access, the wellbeing policy should be published in an easy to locate place on the intranet so that employees do not have to request a copy.
You should also ensure that all new joiners, including trainees, are informed of its existence on joining and provided with a copy.
Policies and procedures should not be seen as a tick-box exercise. They should be reviewed regularly to consider whether they are still relevant and necessary.
It is important to remember that we are all human and there may be circumstances in which following a policy or procedure strictly is not appropriate.
Many employees commented in research that they did not know what support was available to them to support their wellbeing at work.
It should therefore be made clear to all new employees during their induction:
- where they can find the organisation's policies and procedures
- what support is available to them
- who they should speak to if they have any wellbeing concerns
Organisations should also incorporate wellbeing into any training given by the firm.
For example, as part of your IT training as a new starter you should be shown how to use the delayed send function on your emails, so that you can send an email to be delivered at an appropriate time even if you have sent it out of hours.
It may also be helpful to incorporate some form of email etiquette training or guidance as messages commonly get misconstrued over email and such confusion could be avoided with organisation-wide guidance on best practice.
Seminars and workshops
Organisations should facilitate regular seminars and workshops for employees on wellbeing-related topics.
Research has shown that many employees in the legal profession use exercise, meditation and mindfulness to cope with stress.
Running seminars and workshops on these topics, or any of the topics included in the recommendations in this guidance, would be very beneficial for employees. This could include, for example, seminars on digital switch-off or giving and receiving feedback.
If an organisation has sufficient resources, it should consider running a wellbeing programme for its employees.
For training sessions to be delivered effectively, it can be helpful to invite guest speakers to share their own experiences.
Employees should be encouraged to attend sessions on wellbeing and given time away from their desks and emails to do so.
It can be beneficial for employees to have sessions delivered by external speakers so that they feel more able to ask questions and speak openly. It can be helpful to hold seminars offsite.
It is important for an organisation to consider the work-related causes of stress and anxiety and possible improvements that could be made.
In relation to the digital world, the causes of stress and anxiety include:
- feelings of being overwhelmed
- the obligation of being tethered to your phone and inbox
- the inability to switch off during the day for breaks and when not at work
Much of this stress and anxiety can be avoided if an organisation provides guidance or guidelines on how employees should manage their relationship with their inbox and phone.
Organisations should assess their current working practices in order to ascertain if improvements could be made to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed and ensure systems are set up in such a way to support people to do their best work.
There is an increasing issue where multiple communications systems are being used by firms, for example, email, Facebook Workplace, WhatsApp, Wii Chat, Skype for Business, Slack, and so on.
It is therefore important to assess how these platforms are used to ascertain whether they are helping employees or adding to their workload, overwhelm and stress.
Organisations should consider putting in place training for employees on how best to manage their relationship with digital technology.
Some organisations arrange for third parties to come into the office to speak to employees about their pension arrangements or mortgages.
A number of organisations are going further by providing wellbeing coaching and workshops on financial planning with specialist financial advisers coming into the office.
Many employees worry about their finances so arranging for specialists to come in to share their advice can be very helpful for employees.
Case study: Macfarlanes LLP
Macfarlanes recognises the benefits for both the firm and employees in providing support and training in health and wellbeing.
Society is changing with far more discussion around mental ill-health and the impact this can have on individuals, their families and work.
Developing skills to support mental good health is not something that always comes naturally – most of us were not taught this at school.
Recognising the importance of this topic in the unique environment within which we work, we offer seminars to all staff covering topics such as 'performance under pressure', 'reducing stress and enhancing resilience', and 'surviving to thriving'.
The providers we work with deliver informative seminars full of practical tools that staff can use every day.
These sessions have been widely welcomed and consistently receive excellent feedback and we will continue to run them as part of our wellbeing programme in the future.
Case study: Freeths LLP
Since 2015 we have invested significant time, resources and finances to increase our Mental Health and Wellbeing Programme and flexible working options.
The programme has resulted in a number of significant new initiatives, such as the launch of our wellbeing committee, mental health first aid training, and parent and carers network, along with many other initiatives such as a subsidised subscription to Headspace.
Headspace now has 125 users across the firm with an average of 4.2 meditation sessions per week, far exceeding corporate benchmarks.
Staff feedback is that Headspace has improved sleep quality, working relationships and ability to manage stress.
The firm adopts a holistic approach to wellbeing which is reflected in our wellbeing committee, which comprises 49 members of staff at all levels across the business, with sub committees focused on physical, mental, social and financial wellbeing initiatives.
Wellbeing committee members consult their offices before meeting to agree our strategy, events programme and initiatives.
To increase the committee's visibility, during Mental Health Awareness Week, we displayed posters with committee members detailing why mental health was important to them.
This helped to reiterate the significance of our work and, alongside regular events, our quarterly mental health bulletins help maintain engagement and momentum while increasing awareness.
Rather than restricting the number/grade of delegates for the mental health first aid training, we opened it to everyone within the firm.
We had staff from every office and grade within the firm sign up and we ran off-site training in the Midlands with good motorway access and provided hotel and expenses to enable all staff to attend.
By the end of September 2019, the firm will have 67 trained mental health first aiders across all offices, showing our commitment to training staff and keeping mental health at the top of our agenda.
The support that an organisation provides its employees can be instrumental in times of crisis.
Historically, larger sized organisations have provided employees with benefits such as:
- private medical insurance
- life assurance
- income protection
- access to an employee assistance programme
- pension contributions
- access to financial advice
- maternity and paternity leave
- gym subsidy
- special types of leave, such as compassionate leave
Employees may also have access to occupational health and the support of designated human resources personnel, albeit few human resources professionals have been trained to deal with mental ill-health issues.
It is important to ensure that any benefits are fit for purpose.
For example, an employee assistance programme service that provides for three counselling sessions may not be sufficient if the average person needs at least six.
Organisations have generally been good at creating sports and social clubs, which employees are free to sign up to.
In recent years, larger organisations have also supported the creation of networking groups to better support specific demographics such as women, race and sexual orientation. They have also created mentoring schemes and reverse-mentoring schemes.
The aim of these networks and schemes has been to create a more inclusive culture that supports those who may otherwise be at a disadvantage.
While it is important to celebrate people's unique qualities, it is also important to celebrate those things which people share in common, to avoid creating unhelpful divisions.
Recently, larger sized organisations have begun to think more holistically about the support they provide to employees.
In a growing number of organisations, this has involved training key personnel to become mental health first aiders or wellbeing champions, in addition to the first aiders they already had in place.
Even some smaller organisations have invested in training one or two members of key personnel to create mental health or wellbeing champions.
The Law Society has run a number of free mental health first aid training courses in the past 18 months.
From research, organisations have historically struggled to provide sufficient support to those who are struggling with stress in their roles, including those in leadership positions.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that managers have been poorly trained (or not trained at all) to recognise the signs of someone struggling with mental ill-health in their teams.
Yet, early intervention is important to help minimise any further distress or drop in wellbeing and performance.
Ideally, those with management responsibility should be meeting regularly on a one-to-one basis with each other/their teams to understand and support the wellbeing of those in their teams.
Managers should also make sure they have sufficient support in place for themselves.
A number of larger organisations are now hiring psychotherapists or psychologists to work on-site a couple of days per month or sometimes even a couple of days per week, to help better support the psychological health of their employees.
While this may not be appropriate for smaller organisations, ensuring there is an employee assistance programme or private medical insurance that provides access to similar benefits is worth considering.
Coaching is also being employed to help support more senior employees at various junctures in their careers.
Coaches can be especially valuable for senior leaders who often find themselves without a sounding board.
With this additional support in place, it is imperative that organisations regularly communicate the support that is available to employees.
Evidence suggests that one of the biggest barriers to accessing support is not knowing that it exists or how to access it.
Simply including details on the wellbeing hub of an intranet will likely not be sufficient.
Organisations should think about how to promote the support available through regular emails, newsletters, desk-drops, posters, pamphlets and events.
For new joiners, this might include a specific session on wellbeing support together with a detailed summary handout of what support is available and how to access it.
Champions and guardians
Introducing a champions or guardians programme in an organisation can be a helpful way for employees to feel they have someone to talk to for neutral support.
The role of a champion or guardian is to listen and, where appropriate, signpost an employee to support that is available – whether that is through an internal process or by referring them to an advice line or other support service.
As with many recommendations in this guidance, the champions or guardians should include senior management to show the organisation's commitment to the programme.
All champions or guardians should be clearly signposted through the organisation and all employees should be encouraged to speak to champions or guardians if they want to.
Mentoring schemes are a great way to create a good working culture across an organisation by creating a two-way trustful relationship between mentor and mentee.
Creating a network of mentors at all levels, particularly including those holding senior roles, helps to build a variety of trusted routes to seek support and advice.
In terms of managing relationship, it may be worthwhile setting objectives for the mentoring scheme to ensure both the mentor and mentee both understand the nature of the relationship.
If there is a difference in seniority such that there may be a perception that the mentor has 'power' over the mentee, the mentor should explicitly discuss this and disabuse these concerns.
The mentor should therefore actively seek to discover how the mentee feels about their situation.
The mentor should also provide positive feedback to enable the mentee to build a picture of their expertise and skills so as to provide a growing sense of effectiveness and confidence in the mentee.
The mentor will need to discuss supervision arrangements with the mentee to assist the mentee in reflecting upon the right level of autonomy and support.
Reverse mentoring, which involves the more junior employee playing the role of mentor, is another great way to foster better communication across the organisation.
It can help senior leaders get greater insight into the needs of more junior employees in its organisation to ensure a positive working culture.
As mentioned above, it is likely to be helpful to set out clear objectives at the start of the mentoring relationship to ensure both mentor and mentee understand and set appropriate boundaries.
It can also be valuable for mentor and mentee to be from different teams or departments.
Mental health first aiders
Much like physical first aiders in the workplace, organisations should consider introducing mental health first aiders.
Mental health first aiders are able to spot the signs of others experiencing mental ill-health, listen in a non-judgemental way and signpost to support.
Mental health first aider training is run across the country.
Works council or employee engagement group
To maintain a positive working culture, organisations should:
- involve employees in how issues are managed
- provide employees with a voice to help them interact with managers regarding any issues directly affecting them
It may be appropriate to consider holding only part of the meeting with managers present or appointing a designated spokesperson to encourage openness so that employees feel able to raise concerns.
Private medical insurance or employee assistance programmes
For organisations that have an employee assistance programme available to employees, they should ensure that their employees are fully aware of the services it provides.
This can be done by placing posters around the office and/or by advertising it on the organisation's intranet (if applicable).
It is important for organisations to ensure that employees understand that the employee assistance programme is a confidential service and that nothing (other than usage statistics) is reported back to the organisation.
Organisations should be signposting what the employee assistance programme can be used for and/or inviting the employee assistance programme provider into the workplace to raise awareness of their services to employees.
Where organisations are offering their employees the ability to receive private medical insurance as an employee benefit, or providing an employee assistance programme which enables employees to be referred directly for counselling, they should ensure that the provider gives employees sufficient support during periods of mental ill-health.
For example, does the insurance provider cap the number of counselling sessions provided to employees?
Many large organisations are now offering one-to-one counselling sessions with counselling specialists for their employees.
This can either be done by hosting the sessions in the workplace or by arranging for employees to visit a specialist counsellor offsite at their offices.
If an organisation is planning on introducing counselling sessions internally, consideration should be given to whether the sessions can be held confidentially in the workplace.
Many larger organisations have set up a committee specifically to focus on taking positive action to run wellbeing initiatives across the organisation.
For example, by setting up mentoring programmes, appointing wellbeing champions or arranging for guest speakers to attend in the workplace to deliver talks to employees.
In order for a wellbeing committee to be effective, it can be important to have involvement from the senior leaders of the organisation.
For organisations that have a human resources department, it is key for them to be an approachable resource for the organisation.
It is important for employees to understand the role of an organisation's human resources function and for employees to feel that they are able to speak openly with their human resources colleagues.
Organisations should ensure that there is sufficient investment in their human resources functions.
Employees in human resources should have the skills necessary to deal effectively with employee wellbeing issues and should receive appropriate training.
For larger organisations, it may be appropriate for employees to know their designated human resources contact.
There are numerous national and global days and weeks throughout the year that organisations can support by running events in the office.
As well as running mental health-focused events for World Mental Health Day in October and Mental Health Awareness Week in May, organisations can, for example, encourage healthy eating in the workplace during the British Nutrition Foundation's National Healthy Eating Week or supporting alcohol-free periods such as Dry January.
Health and Safety Executive guidance and stress risk assessment
Organisations should regularly review the roles and responsibilities of their employees, to ensure that they have the resources and the autonomy to do their job to the best of their ability.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) guidance states that organisations should, where appropriate, conduct stress risk assessments for employees that experience stress in their roles.
Managers should also look for subtle shifts in performance and behaviours to ensure that employees are not suffering in silence. These might include:
- errors creeping into the work of someone who is usually meticulous
- a shift in mood (becoming angrier, more withdrawn or fatigued)
- someone coming in late where they are usually very punctual
Encouraging employees to socialise together outside of their work is a great way to build relationships and help create a positive working culture.
Organisations should encourage employees to establish and then actively promote sports clubs, book clubs, etc.
If an organisation has the resources, it should consider offering yoga, meditation or mindfulness workshops to employees.
Health promotion initiatives
Organisations should consider running health promotion initiatives to raise awareness of health and lifestyle initiatives such as stress management and disability awareness.
It is important for an organisation to consider employees' health and wellbeing across its business.
For example, if it has a canteen in the workplace, are the healthy options more expensive?
If you use caterers, do they charge more for non-alcoholic drinks than an alcohol free package?
If an organisation has the space in the workplace, it should consider creating a breakout space for employees to use when they are taking time away from their desks.
Many lawyers have reported feeling under pressure to attend the office when they are physically and/or mentally unwell.
It is important to remember that we are all human and to treat employees as individuals.
Organisations should ensure that they are supporting their employees during any period of absence and during their return to work.
It can be very beneficial to both employer and employee to have an open conversation about keeping in touch during periods of sickness absence, in the same way as you would for parental leave.
A number of lawyers have commented to feeling unable to take time off work due to sickness in circumstances where it relates to their mental health.
Some stated that they had instead told their organisation they were physically unwell.
Organisations should consider very carefully any trigger points they have in place for commencing performance management procedures.
It is important to consider absences on a case-by-case basis and consider each employee's individual circumstances.
In some circumstances, it may be necessary to refer an employee experiencing physical or mental ill-health to see an occupational health specialist so that an assessment can be made.
Organisations should ensure that when they are referring employees to see an occupational health specialist that they are asking the right questions.
Organisations should ensure there are clear guidelines in place for dealing with covering work when an employee is away from the office on annual leave.
It is very important that the employee taking annual leave is able to enjoy their break and genuinely use it as a rest period from their work.
It may be helpful to consider introducing a policy to redirect emails/limit access during annual leave for employees who find it difficult to switch off to limit their ability to do work while on leave.
This may not be appropriate in all circumstances and many employees may wish to continue keeping on top of their emails during leave to avoid the email build-up on their return.
It is certainly essential for an organisation to discuss this with all employees so that they understand what is expected of them before and during their annual leave.
Organisations may wish to include a buddy system between employees in the same team so that they can check each other's inboxes and action matters when they are on annual leave.
Peer coaching can be a very powerful tool whereby two or more colleagues can work together to, amongst other things, increase collaboration, share ideas and reflect on current practices.
It can help colleagues build relationships and network at their own level.
Employees should feel that they are able to raise any concerns they may have with their employer.
Organisations should consider the methods available to employees to raise concerns confidentially.
External support, charities and advice lines
Organisations should inform their employees about LawCare and other charities that provide support, guidance and assistance.
Internal systems and processes
Many employees have reported a lack of support in their roles as a contributing factor to their high levels of stress in the workplace.
By ensuring that all systems and processes are as efficient as possible, organisations can help to ensure that their employees are able to do the best job they can without unnecessary obstacles through inefficiencies.
Depending on the nature of the work being undertaken by employees, it may be valuable to incorporate a de-briefing exercise with employees in respect of their work.
This may be appropriate to give feedback after a complicated transaction or in circumstances where employees are advising vulnerable clients in difficult circumstances.
Case study: Farrer & Co LLP
This year we published our first internal wellbeing report within which we make a series of recommendations that we suggest will continue to build on the positive culture of wellbeing at the firm.
At the same time, we launched the Farrer & Co wellbeing charter. The charter represents a collective commitment to a culture of wellbeing and sets out a series of guiding principles in relation to areas such as:
- individual responsibility
- manager support
It encourages individuals to continue to develop their tools for resilience and endorses the five ways to wellbeing.
It also suggests individuals should establish personal boundaries that will assist them in balancing work and life, and to share those boundaries with their colleagues.
It underlines the role managers play in terms of supervision and support for wellbeing, and promotes regular one-to-ones – which should be used to discuss not only work in progress, but workloads, personal development and wellbeing.
The charter reminds individuals of the firm's policy in relation to holiday and encourages every member of the firm to use all their holiday each year.
The final section is intended to help individuals to manage their relationship with technology in a manner that will support their wellbeing.
The response to the charter has been very positive and we are currently working with teams to discuss how they wish to adopt it within their individual areas of practice.
One of the recommendations within the report is to pilot onsite wellness checks, available to all eligible members of the firm.
By making the appointments available at the office – as opposed to at a medical centre offsite – it has made it easier for members of the firm to take advantage of the biennial health review, and as such we have seen an increase in take up.
We are now considering the feasibility of offering checks onsite on a permanent basis.
Case study: Giles Wilson LLP
As a medium-sized regional firm of approximately 45 employees, we have worked hard to create and maintain a culture of wellbeing and support akin to a family environment.
We have a set of core values that were created some years ago by collaboration of employee and partner suggestions, and we live by this code of conduct in our relationships with each other and with our clients.
Respect, professionalism, communication, transparency and teamwork are our principles, and by using these as our tools in difficult conversations, we have found that we can best support those that are struggling as well as those that need guidance in how to better support others.
Perhaps the most important of our core values in terms of supporting colleagues is communication.
We have found this to be key in enabling open conversations. Here are two examples of initiatives we have in place:
One-to-one personal time
Every fee earner from trainee to associate has monthly time with a supervisor to discuss their development plan, targets and anything of concern.
The feedback from fee earners is that this is valuable and reassuring to know that this time is dedicated to them and an opportunity to plan ahead, particularly in terms of personal development.
Employee engagement groups
Our core value champions group and trainee peer support group meet monthly. A partner is a guest at these meetings, which are employee led.
These groups encourage employee suggestions and have led to successful initiatives such as a weekly yoga class held in the office, free dress policy, adjustment to holiday allowance and social events.
All our associates and core value champions are trained in wellbeing and mental health awareness, and encourage safe space conversations.
We have an arrangement with a local counselling clinic, which provides private and individual but confidential counselling to any of our employees.
We have had two trainees in the last three years who have struggled with stress and their mental health, who through this programme have qualified successfully and gone on to become solicitors with us.
Both said they would have been unable to qualify had it not been for this level of support.
We are proud that this programme has been recognised by us being shortlisted in the Learning and Development category of the Law Society Awards 2019.
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