The Wellbeing of Your Law Firm May Need Attention
- Posted by Lynn Sedgwick
- May 24, 2022
It’s generally accepted that the legal profession works hard; consistently. Tight deadlines, huge caseloads and out of work hours have always been the accepted norm.
Yet the past few years have seen an explosion in the hours worked by many legal employees as the sector navigated the ups and downs of the pandemic and its concerned client base.
And it is taking its toll.
The Current Mental Health Challenges Legal Employees Are Experiencing
In a recent C.I.P.D. survey, the evidence suggests that the coronavirus pandemic heavily influences employee health and wellbeing.
The virus has and continues to disrupt due to staff absence, and in some cases, employees are suffering the after-effects of contracting the virus from long COVID. Although organisations are still committed to supporting their people, evidence suggests that activity in this area is starting to slip. A more holistic approach – based on the health risks and needs of the workforce – is much needed.
This was also confirmed by a post on Legalcheek at the end of last year that shared research from a Legal Sector Workers United (L.S.W.U.) survey, which reported that 71% of respondents agreed that their role had a negative impact on their mental health with only 14% saying it had a positive effect.
More than half of the respondents had been diagnosed with a specific condition, and almost seven out of ten described themselves as suffering from poor mental health.
The survey of 300 employees, including paralegals, solicitors, barristers, clerks, caseworkers and admin staff.
The main cause of this work-related deterioration in mental health seems to be material conditions in the workplace.
- 219 people reported struggling to cope with long hours and overwork,
- 122 cited pay as a key issue,
- and 113 felt that the relentless pressure to bill and meet targets was a factor.
Shocking stats for all law firms to process, especially when the survey revealed that one in four law firms had no mental health support on offer for staff.
This comment is even more concerning as seven out of ten respondents said they would not feel comfortable asking for time off for mental health reasons and over half commented that disclosing mental health concerns would, in their experience, impede career progression.
It is no wonder that legal professionals are considering the workplace culture of their current firm versus others they could join.
So what can your law firm put in place to improve your legal team’s wellbeing? Here are several ideas.
Assess The Situation in Your Firm
Some of the larger firms we work with conduct a regular employee survey, though historically, asking your team about their wellbeing hasn’t been included.
Consider the nature of the questions you ask employees, and take proactive measures to ensure that respondents are safe from identification. Attempting to measure mental health and stigma in highly challenging environments like an overworked law firm may also skew results so that they are not representative of true employee sentiments.
This is stage one, as it is critical to know what you are dealing with first before you can implement a process to make a difference across your firm
Have Mental Health on Your Agenda
As in all areas of business, if you want an area to change, you must give it focus. I am sure your law firm has a business growth plan and ideas on succession planning, and you may be working with someone like ourselves on building your legal talent pipeline.
Your leadership team will have a strategic plan on how to take the firm forward, and in today’s business landscape, part of that needs to include looking after the wellbeing of your team.
As a first start, you can find some excellent resources on the Mental Health Foundation website here. In addition, assign a partner to the role of mental health lead in your firm. Consider engaging the help of external suppliers to help you implement an Employee Assistance Programme (E.A.P.) which is one part of a wellbeing solution.
E.A.P.s are intended to help employees deal with personal problems that might adversely impact their work performance, health and wellbeing. E.A.P.s generally include assessment, short-term counselling and referral services for employees and their immediate family – wherever they are in the world.
Support Managers To Coach and Lead Their Team
An easy start to improving wellbeing is to instil a coaching culture in your firm aligned with external training on mental health and wellbeing. As a manager trained in wellbeing, you can make a huge difference to your team.
Honest and open communication during regular catch-ups with your team members can help identify struggling people.
We know one law firm uses a traffic light system during conversations with green when everything is ok, amber when a few cracks appear that require help, and naturally, red for an extreme case and that individual needs support. The wellbeing plan has created multiple resources we can all now access to improve our mental health, so finally, I want to share a few examples.
Provide Support Resources For Your Team
The way we think and listen to our thoughts can cause us to spiral out of control. It is no wonder that working with a coach proves to be a valuable support mechanism for many.
One firm we know utilises the help of an external coach, with team members having the ability to book sessions to help them navigate any stress they are experiencing.
Many of us accept that we lead busy lives, and the ability to handle overwhelm and calm can be facilitated in many ways.
Though it sounds counter-intuitive, there are several online apps that many individuals use with great success. The aptly named Headspace and Calm apps have over a hundred million users and provide access to multiple resources.
Develop Your Action Plan
Finally, improving the well being of your team is about taking action. We have shared several ideas and resources here.
In addition, the way many people worked remotely during the pandemic helped their work-life balance and wellbeing. We have written posts about the value of hybrid working here and, most recently, the move to a four-day working week here.
All of these ideas can be used to help your team improve their well being – although obviously need to be carefully considered alongside business strategy and key objectives.