How can law firms prepare for better mental health practices?
Legal Geek - 09/12/2021
Mental Health

Have you recognised the signs of cabin fever during lockdown? You’re not alone.

According to the June 2021 report ‘What if your job was good for you?’, instances of mental ill-health created by excessive working hours and work intensification increased over the course of the pandemic – with 41% of employees experiencing work-related poor mental health in the last year. 

We have been speaking to some experts about this and what can be done to combat it in your business.

Louise Aston, wellbeing director at Business in the Community, says: “The impact of the pandemic on mental health is likely to be long-lasting and more of your employees may be suffering from mental ill-health. To retain and attract talent, promoting and protecting employee mental health and wellbeing as a boardroom priority will be essential going forward.”

Tracy Foley, head of HR, and Hannah Blood, employment team associate, at Walker Morris discuss ways in which firms will have to evolve. “While we expect that employers will be more willing to consider hybrid working as a viable option and may even begin to encourage it because of the benefits it can bring to employees and employers alike, there is a balance to be struck. Many employees have found that working from home during the pandemic has blurred the lines between work and home life, created an environment where there is a constant need to be ‘connected’ and in turn, have suffered mentally and physically.”

It is a tough balance. Marie Steel, CSR manager at Fletchers Solicitors, says the firm constantly consulted with employees throughout the pandemic; and, overall, found the hybrid working model to be a success.

Like many law firms now, Fletchers Solicitors provides a variety of mental health resources for staff. The firm has wellbeing activities, Mental Health Champions, and an Employee Assistance Programme, for example. “Our policies have been updated and new ones added, including a domestic violence policy. Collectively, these measures ensure that all employees know that they work for a business that cares and they can come to us for support through life’s challenges.”

Aston at Business in the Community adds that your starting point should be to tackle the systemic causes of work-related poor mental health. Her company’s ‘Better Work’ framework includes five enablers and four values, underpinned by sustainability, designed to create better work that enhances wellbeing – highlighted below, it can also be found in the ‘What if your job was good for you?’ report.

Enablers

  • Open dialogue and feedback
  • Collaborative individual-focused approach (as one size does not fit all)
  • Focus on relationships (particularly the manager)
  • An appropriate physical environment
  • Measuring and monitoring

Values

  • Empathy and compassion
  • Inclusivity and equity
  • Trust and appreciation
  • Authenticity

Foley at Walker Morris adds there is clearly no one size fits all approach. She has some examples of practical considerations firms can take:

Setting boundaries

  • For emails sent after hours, starting those emails with “For the morning” or “For tomorrow” – to signify that the item does not need to be actioned that evening
  • Limiting email traffic outside of working hours – either by automatically retaining the emails in the outbox until the morning or setting up a ‘send at 09:00am’ functionality
  • Implementing an out-of-hours contact policy, which indicates core hours when contact should not be made
  • Introduce email footers which state individual boundaries of when employees can and cannot be contacted, or will or will not be available

Implementing a flexible/remote working policy

  • Set out expectations and lines of communication
  • Ensure this joins up with a diversity and inclusion policy

 

All employees at Legal Geek are trained Mental Health First Aiders. This is to ensure we have a better understanding of mental health and the factors that can affect wellbeing for our team and attendees at our events. The Legal Geek Conference will have dedicated mental health workshops and talks.