Mental Health Awareness Week is in full swing and the legal sector is no stranger to this. Amy Leech explains the current expectation on employers in relation to mental health, what Shoosmiths does to assist its employees and how raising awareness of mental health can ensure employees are thriving and not merely surviving.
Mental health and wellbeing in the workplace is currently highly topical and the legal profession is no exception. Large workloads, tight deadlines, long hours with 24/7 electronic communication and emotionally challenging cases can often make working as a lawyer a very stressful occupation at times. Both lawyers and support staff in the legal profession regardless of how junior or senior they are in their role, can have their mental health affected by these factors
The Junior Lawyers Division recently published the results of its resilience and wellbeing survey 2019, with some concerning results. The national survey revealed that 93.5% of respondents had experienced stress in their job over the last month with 24.8% (almost a quarter) of these respondents experiencing severe/extreme levels of stress.
If that wasn’t scary enough, 1 in every 15 junior lawyers have experienced suicidal thoughts and 34.5% of respondents revealed that work-related stress also had a negative impact on their physical health including being physically sick and experiencing chest pains.
What was interesting was that 38% of respondents did not know of any organisations that could help if they needed to talk to someone about stress or mental ill-health at work. This demonstrates that there is a lot more that employers could do to raise awareness of support available.
Employers are not expected to be experts in mental health but there is an expectation that they recognise changes in their employees’ behaviour. Embracing initiatives, such as Mental Health Awareness week, shows that employers have an understanding and appreciation for mental health in the workplace and Mental Health First Aid England recently revealed in a tweet that they have trained over 384,000 individuals with mental health first aid skills.
At Shoosmiths, we have a diversity, inclusion and wellbeing team and a sub-committee of Mental Health and Wellbeing Champions across our offices nationally. The Champions currently consist of employees from Learning and Development, Human Resources, Estates, IS and various personal assistants, legal advisors and partners. The main role of the Champions is to signpost and raise awareness, but just as importantly, it’s being there to listen to those who need to talk. This network of Champions has so far implemented weekly yoga sessions in several offices, arranged fun activities to increase wellbeing including office wide step challenges, sent out informative emails about mental health and held ‘time to talk’ afternoons where colleagues could take time out to chat over some tea and cake.
Everyone at the firm also has access to an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which offers confidential 24 hour personal assistance, The EAP provides colleagues with access to counselling services, guidance on a wide range of topics from personal crises to managing money and the Thrive Mental Wellbeing App (which helps users prevent and mange stress and anxiety). Shoosmiths has also partnered with Be Mindful to offer all colleagues access to an 8 week online mindfulness course which has been extremely popular.
Whilst we still have a way to go to ensure that the stigma around mental health is reduced further, there is evidence that good steps and conversations are starting to take place within the workplace. The key for employers is communication and transparency – employees just want to know that their employers care and that they are not going to be judged for confiding in them about their own mental health.
If you feel you need to talk, there are several legal and non-legal related services that can help:
- Employee Assistance Programme – check internally at your workplace for your employee assistance programme – details normally found with your HR department or intranet
- LawCare - free helpline: 0800 279 6888 (Mon – Fri 9am to 7.30pm, weekends and bank holidays – 10am to 4pm)
- Law Society Helpline: 020 7320 5795 (Mon – Fri 9am to 5pm)
- Samaritans – free helpline: 116 123 (24 hours a day, 365 days a year)
- Mind – helpline: 0300 123 3393 (Mon –Fri 9am to 6pm)
- Mental Health Foundation – website: www.mentalhealth.org.uk