How to create a mentally healthy legal workplace By Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO, LawCare
At LawCare, the charity offering emotional support to legal professionals, we have listened to thousands of people tell us about the stress, anxiety and depression they are experiencing, which is often caused or exacerbated by a difficult working environment. Lack of support or supervision, an overly critical manager, being undermined after a career break, an unreasonably heavy workload, long hours and sleep deprivation are all very common issues.
Firms need to do their best to create a healthy and happy place to work, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because there is a strong proven business case for it. Happy employees lead to greater productivity, better morale, better retention of valued and experienced staff, and reduced sickness absence.
Here’s our 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 sharing of stories from people within the firm or invite a speaker to talk, lived experiences can help break down stigma and stereotypes. It is vital people at all levels talk open about mental health.
- Use existing internal communications channels to talk about wellbeing.
- 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; take annual leave entitlement. Make sure teams are well resourced in order to make this happen.
- Flexible working can support healthier and more productive ways of working for all staff and lead to increased morale, commitment, productivity and reduced sickness absence. It can also be a vital early intervention to prevent mental health problems from getting worse and can support a phased return to work.
- Have a sensible email policy in place for the sending and receiving of emails outside core working hours.
LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT
- Everyone need 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.
- Embed mental health in inductions and training, staff will understand how mental health is managed and what support is available. This will also help them to look out for colleagues, support them and signpost them for help.
MENTORING, PEER SUPPORT
- Peer support can allow colleagues to support one another outside the line-management structure.
- 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 that colleagues feel able to admit any mistakes they have made.
- Reverse mentoring - pairing a junior member of staff with a senior leader in the organisation - can be very effective.
PROVIDE GOOD SUPERVISION
- Good line management can help manage and prevent stress.
- Managers should make themselves available for regular work-related conversations with staff.
- Monitor the happiness levels of your staff. Have a robust performance review system which includes a wellbeing element, consider 360 degree appraisals, and use anonymous internal surveys if necessary.
- Be mindful if staff or colleagues are working in areas which can be emotionally difficult. They may need additional support, the opportunity to share their experiences, or advice on techniques for coping.
- You or your organisation may also need additional support or training in order to provide adequate supervision, or may need to engage the services of a third party such as a counsellor for staff working in emotionally difficult areas of law.
LawCare provides a free confidential helpline for all branches of the legal profession, peer support and training, talks and other resources. Visit www.lawcare.org.uk or call the helpline on 0800 279 6888.