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Junior Lawyers Division

Lawyer wellbeing from a new perspective

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Are employers doing enough to support good mental health in the workplace, asks Kayleigh Leonie

Mental Health Awareness Week has taken place annually since 2000 and this year runs from 8-14 May. This year, the Mental Health Foundation is looking at mental health from a new angle, seeking to uncover why too few of us are thriving with good mental health, instead of asking why so many people are living with mental health problems.

Earlier this year, the Junior Lawyers Division undertook a survey to obtain data on the resilience and wellbeing of junior lawyers with several questions focussing on mental health. Over 200 members responded and the resulting findings raised some extremely concerning questions.

Over 25 per cent of respondents said they had suffered with a mental health problem in the last month with only 23 per cent of those having told their employer. None of the male respondents whom had suffered from a mental health problem told their employer, suggesting a clear obstacle to informing possibly being the misperceived stigma attached to mental health problems in the workplace.

Alarmingly, 73 per cent said they did not know or thought their employer did not provide any help, guidance, or support in relation to mental health at work. Over half of respondents said their employer could do more. One key question the survey raised is why law firms are not doing more to support employees in this area.

To tackle mental health issues in the workplace, employers need to reduce the perceived stigma associated with talking about mental health and encourage employees to be more open. Survey respondents suggested several ways employers could raise awareness including:

  • Making relevant policies easier to find instead of buried in a staff handbook or hidden on the intranet;
  • Appointing ‘wellbeing’ champions (including at partner/senior level) to raise awareness within the organisation;
  • Putting in place training and workshops; and
  • Encouraging more regular meetings/informal chats to discuss wellbeing with supervisors who are properly trained to deal with mental health matters at work.

The MHF, Oxford Economics, and Unum recently undertook research on helping businesses add value while improving and protecting mental health in the workplace. The intention is to shift the narrative on workplace mental health from discussion of the financial burden of mental health problems to the value of mental health as an asset: of individuals, companies, and the economy. The subsequent report recommends that employers:

  • Designate champions at board level and within senior management to oversee the strategy at the heart of the business;
  • Set targets for KPIs improving mental health and wellbeing that integrate with the organisation’s performance metrics; and
  • Recognise and celebrate the impact of existing employee benefits and corporate social responsibility activities on the mental health and wellbeing of staff.

Employees that have good mental health can significantly improve an employer’s ability to attract and retain talent and boost workplace morale and productivity. There is real value in investing time and resource to improve employees’ mental health. Recognising and supporting mental health in the workplace can help to reduce absences, reduce the risk of mistakes, and create a positive, open and sustainable workforce.

A free JLD webinar on stress in the legal profession is available now

Kayleigh Leonie is an employment solicitor and Law Society Council member for the Junior Lawyers Division of the Law Society @juniorlawyers

This is an amended version of an article which was first published by Solicitors Journal (www.solicitorsjournal.com) on 10 May 2017 and is reproduced by kind permission.

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