The pandemic thrust issues of employee mental health and wellbeing into the spotlight. The Brief has spoken to a selection of law firms to find out how they have responded.
In the years leading up to the pandemic the role played by employers in promoting, or in some cases negatively affecting, the mental wellbeing of staff was already attracting considerable scrutiny. Covid-19, home-working, and the subsequent return to the office have, of course, shone an even brighter spotlight on this issue.
GetApp UK is a provider of research-led articles. In April 2022 it published a survey of employees of UK SMEs with fewer than 250 staff, which found that employees’ reported mental health had declined by 14 percentage points since the start of the pandemic, and that 22 per cent of respondents said they felt more stressed at work now than they did a year ago.
Only 29 per cent of respondents said they received mental health resources from their employers to help them through the pandemic.
Many legal employers have, however, been taking steps to support their team members’ wellbeing.
Lucy Norman-Wells, senior equality, diversity, inclusion and wellbeing manager at the top-50 firm TLT, says her business uses a “promote, prevent, support” framework, which it applies across six interlinked components: digital, financial, mental, physical, social and spiritual wellbeing.
“We promote a culture of openness about mental health by tackling the stigma associated with seeking support,” Norman-Wells says. “In 2021, we introduced mental health wellbeing champions to connect colleagues with trained volunteers across the firm to have more mental health conversations.
“We celebrated flagship awareness days including World Mental Health Day and Talk Money Week, as well as Mental Health Awareness Week, which was our four-week campaign to encourage colleagues to get outdoors through activities such as a step-count challenge and wildlife-drawing classes.”
Rayden Solicitors, a family law specialist with eight offices in the South East and London, promotes various activities with wellbeing elements, including photography competitions, a book group, and a cheese and wine group. It also holds awareness days, including a “heritage day” during which staff are encouraged to talk and share their stories.
Olliers Solicitors is a specialist criminal defence firm based in Manchester. Its director Ruth Peters says, “After recognising the impact of the pandemic on our employees, in Summer 2021, we introduced a new role of head of corporate social responsibility and wellness. Alongside this, we scheduled a series of wellness events for staff – many taking place in the firm’s time – such as hikes, water sports events and trips to museums and events, including Van Gogh Alive.
“We are committed to the Law Society’s Women in Law Pledge, and three of our four-strong senior management team are women. We have implemented a menopause policy following feedback from employees.”
Rayden Solicitors holds annual training days which incorporate specific wellbeing sessions, and has a wellbeing committee which meets monthly and is led by partner Joanna Kay. In addition, the firm provides an internal channel for all colleagues to engage with each other, to propose initiatives and promote wellbeing.
Buckworths, a London-based commercial firm specialising in the technology sector, conducts quarterly surveys to find out the cause of mental health problems and, says managing partner Michael Buckworth, identify ways in which the business could provide a more positive and healthy work environment.
Harrogate-based Raworths had, pre-pandemic, already formed a mental health and wellbeing group, comprised from a cross section of people in the firm. In 2021 it achieved Investors In People “We invest in wellbeing” Silver accreditation.
People partner Deborah Boylan says, “We know our people are the bedrock of Raworths and our client service so, for us, it’s vital that we don’t just pay lip service to the notion of mental health and wellbeing but actually deliver and support our people.”
Nicola Greenbrook, HR specialist at the international intellectual property firm EIP, says “We are keen to be open about mental health and the conversations around this topic.” With this in mind, EIP has set up a dedicated internal communications channel called “Mind Matters” where content including “Action for Happiness” monthly calendars is posted as well as providing a virtual forum where people can talk.
Mental health training
Norman-Wells says TLT has sought to prevent mental health decline by, among other things, offering targeted training on suicide-prevention to teach colleagues to be alert to the signs, and introduced “managing mental health” training for line managers.
Rayden Solicitors, meanwhile, has three trained metal health first aiders across the business.
EIP, similarly, has eight qualified mental health first aiders who are available to support any staff who are experiencing concerns. Greenbrook says, “The MHFA support network is intended to provide everyone with access to a colleague with whom they can talk openly and confidentially about any issue they are struggling with.”
At Raworths, people partner Deborah Boylan says, “Mental health training has been given to all members of the mental health and wellbeing group and to line managers and supervisors. This is ongoing and, importantly, enables early intervention in cases of mental ill-health so the appropriate support service can be signposted early.”
At Olliers, Peters says, employees and their families have access to an employee assistance programme. “This is a confidential employee benefit designed to help deal with personal and professional problems that could be affecting employee’s home life or work life, health, and general wellbeing,” she explains.
TLT, meanwhile, provides private medical insurance which includes, Norman-Wells says, “comprehensive mental health treatment outpatient services.”
Like at TLT, private health insurance also plays a role at Buckworths. This includes health and wellbeing programmes from which employees can benefit.