Much has been said around mental health in workplaces but when looking specifically at law, it could be argued that, as a sector, they are running a bit behind. Speaking with Managing Director, Rhiannon Cambrook-Woods, she discussed some of the ways law firms could help to improve the mental health of their employees.
Q – Question
R- Rhiannon Cambrook-Woods
Q: Are there specific elements within a law firm that can work against the mental health of an employee?
R: One of the key drivers of stress is workload – particularly in law. The legal sector is a high volume, fast paced, heavy caseload industry where time-management and organisational skills are paramount to staying on top of your work. One slip and all of the dominoes could tumble.
I think as well in law there is a certain lack of work-life balance in some cases, which is so necessarily to lead a happy life. Of course, it depends where you work. Statistically it is believed that smaller firms are more supportive towards mental health – there seems to be more of an open-door culture.
Personally, I would have to disagree with this, I think it comes down to the firms’ approach and culture overall. If a firm realises and recognises that mental health is significant for lawyers, they have better transparency and openness. In turn, if you’re suffering, you are encouraged to be open about it.
Q: What are the warning signs to look out for when a co-worker could be struggling with their mental health?
R: Mental health issues come in all shapes, sizes and reactions. It is in no way a no-size-fits-all concept and I think this is why sometimes the signs can be so hard to spot. As a manger it’s a scary concept to face. The best place to start is by keeping note of changes in behaviour. Is a member of staff getting snappier? Are they being quieter than usual? Are you noticing patterns of tardiness? Or are they staying excessively late and burning the candle at both ends?
As evidenced, reactions can go one way or another. Responding quickly to behavioural change is important though. You may be noting a more bedraggled appearance, excessive consumption of junk foods or even the smell of alcohol. The key to being a good manager is to engage and have a relationship which each of your employees, or maintaining close contact with line managers. That way you can notice these signs.
Q: What noticeable benefits are there to a firm that promotes mental wellbeing?
R: The benefits are abundant. A happy workplace is a supportive and well engaged workforce. You will find that employees exude a positive attitude which in turn generates higher productivity. Your employees are keener to impress, and you will even see a reduction in those all-important business indicators such as sickness and absenteeism.
Q: What help, information or practical tips can help those in your workplace with their mental health?
R: Confidentiality is key with issues linked to mental health. Offering employees private ‘talk time’ and regular one-to-ones is a start. Ensure your employees have access and awareness of mental health charities and websites. Offer flexibility wherever possible – you may be busy but think about how much quality work can be produced when somebody’s mind is elsewhere. The answer is, not a lot.
The most important thing is to be an approachable, friendly and understanding manager or colleague. Nobody will open up to somebody they don’t trust or someone they can’t relate too.
Q: Names some do’s and don’ts on creating a positive environment for mental health.
R: Do not name and shame, confidentiality is everything! Try not to encourage people to leave their personalities at home, this creates more anxiety. Communication is key so encourage people to talk, an be open and honest from the top-down and bottom-up. Employers also have the absolute responsibility to recognise personal significant events such as bereavements and show a personal touch – send a card or a gift and allow the time off if needed.
Q: Are there any new initiatives in place in other sectors that could be carried across to legal?
R: Too many law firms remain traditional and close-lipped. This needs to change and it is in the more modern law firms. Many are moving towards flexible working, with the option to build your career and workday around your life and other commitments. The traditional work model of a lawyer is becoming outdated with some firms even moving away from billable hours to encourage more of a balance in the working day. Openness and understanding are the first step though – you can’t implement something new if you don’t actually support it.
Q: Should there be a sole person within each law firm that holds specific mental health responsibilities – like implementing new initiatives within the workplace?
R: Overall yes, there should be various avenues open to employees. Perhaps not specifically a Mental Health Officer, as again its drawing attention to something that we should be committed to removing the negative stigma of. Management, peers or HR should all have access and support – whether internal or external. After all, anybody can suffer with their mental health and everybody deserves somebody to turn to.
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