Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace
The legal sector is well known for its long working hour culture and heavy caseloads. The job of a lawyer is often fast-paced and high pressured, which can sometimes result in feelings of stress or worry. However, the idea of lawyers working every hour of the day is becoming increasingly out of date, and some law firms are beginning to realise the value of boosting the wellbeing of their staff.
An average day in the legal sector can be extremely long, with lawyers usually having to juggle huge workloads and client demands, all at the same time. But although a career in the legal sector can be extremely rewarding, it’s important to recognise that lawyers are human too and sometimes need a break from the pressure.
While a few law firms are breaking away from tradition and have started recognising the benefits of supporting their employees’ wellbeing, the rest still seem to be set in their ways and are more reluctant to adapt their working policies. However, the dynamics of the modern workforce, and the structure of work in general, are now changing across the majority of industries. This situation is becoming very similar within the once traditional legal sector, meaning that more firms need to move with the times and make their employees’ health a priority.
So how can firms increase employee morale and ensure they are meeting the needs of their workers?
Create a positive working environment
Currently, mental health is one of society’s biggest health challenges. Every year, a quarter of people in the UK will experience an issue with their mental health. Employees are working harder and are under more pressure than ever before, yet there remains a culture of silence around mental health at work. Employers and employees alike can be reluctant to talk about it due to associations with weakness or failure.
There could be a whole list of reasons why an employee feels worried or anxious in their place of work – perhaps they feel disengaged from their work or are struggling with large workloads. This is especially the case in the legal sector, where huge caseloads can cause stress levels to rise, or very important, high value cases can begin to feel overwhelming.
Even the working environment can have a huge impact on how employees are feeling. When the culture has a positive and supportive feel to it, employees are more likely to enjoy their jobs and it can also help to ease the pressure. However, if the environment feels negative, this will only add to the stress and create feelings of unhappiness.
To increase employee wellbeing and ensure that staff do not feel weighed down by their work, or even their personal life, firms need to establish an open and transparent culture where people feel like they can talk about stress, anxiety or any concerns they have. This will help to remove the stigma that often exists when it comes to discussing mental health. It will also help to foster a greater sense of community where everyone communicates openly and can share ideas and suggestions, instead of employees feeling they must suffer in silence if something isn’t working well for them.
At Fletchers we have provided our managers with specialised training to help them create an open culture where employees can discuss their mental health or any issues they might have. Half of our managers are now known as Mental Health Champions, following ACAS training on how to proactively spot and prevent mental health issues in their teams, which is an innovative move for the sector.
Introduce flexible working
In the legal sector, working long hours is expected but can usually go unrecognised and unrewarded. It’s true that a career in law isn’t a 9 to 5 job, and lawyers are often required to work late or be available whenever the case demands it. However, as people become less willing to sacrifice their home life, firms need to embrace new working models or risk losing their top talent. It’s also important to remember that people just need time to themselves sometimes, away from the stresses and demands of working life. If a person is constantly under pressure, this will inevitably have a detrimental effect on their mental health and could lead to more serious health problems, such as depression.
By embracing flexible working, something that is highly unusual in this industry, it will make for a happier and more productive team; a team that’s actually more willing to work late knowing their efforts will be rewarded. Fletchers’ well-thought out Flexitime scheme gives staff the opportunity to earn 12 extra holiday days (on top of their existing 28) that can be built up through earning hours via ‘flexi-time’. This allows employees to have a much-needed break from the pressure and to also prioritise time with family. No matter how much people love their jobs, they have a life outside of it and it’s important to recognise this.
Provide a dedicated rewards strategy
Offering the right benefits can also help to keep employees happy and motivated. This is because employees who feel valued, perhaps because their hard work is recognised, will feel more content and engaged with their roles. However, determining what benefits to offer is about knowing what is actually important to the workforce. Not everyone is motivated by the same incentives; therefore benefit schemes should include a whole range of bonuses to ensure there is something to suit everyone - from monetary rewards to days out or beauty treatments. When employees feel valued and their hard work is recognised, they will feel more content, happier and engaged with their roles.
Our dedicated employee engagement strategy includes various schemes, such as monthly internal awards, subsidised gym and yoga class membership, additional training programmes, vouchers and monetary rewards, and beauty and therapeutic treatments. Offering initiatives that recognise the needs of our workforce and also reward them for their hard work and dedication has been greatly received by our staff.
Similar benefit schemes are also being implemented across other sectors, such as retail. For example, Mars Chocolate UK has a dedicated employee strategy that promotes good mental health and wellbeing by giving staff access to exercise classes, onsite gyms and resilience workshops. This scheme has helped to create good working relationships, and a fit and healthy workforce. Although retail workers will have different job responsibilities than a lawyer, they are all people, and each one would benefit from programmes that create a healthy working environment.
At the end of the day, employees are a company’s greatest asset – without them, most businesses would be unable to function. Therefore, these assets need to be nurtured and looked after. This is no different in the legal sector, and it’s about time that firms started putting the health of their staff before caseloads – especially given the stressful nature of the work. If firms do not take the time to develop employee wellbeing strategies, they risk losing their top talent to more forward-thinking firms.