Well-being is a long-standing concern in the legal profession. The consequences of poor mental health are wide-ranging and include: reduced employee performance; increased rates of absence and high employee turnover. The legal profession is known to be synonymous with a highly competitive culture, poor work-life balance and long hours. In a 2017 survey by the Evening Standard, the legal profession was ranked 4th as one of the most stressful careers, with an increased likelihood of burn-out, mental health problems, with an even higher chance of developing a serious illness.
The view remains that a good lawyer should respond well to greater work demands, time pressures and high billable targets. Similarly, law students and trainees suffer the cultural stigma that if they cannot cope with increased levels of pressure, they will not be rewarded with high levels of job satisfaction. This is a misconception and only results in short-term satisfaction but long-term negative effects. LawCare, a charity who support and promote mental health and wellbeing in the legal sector, has recently conducted research examining the culture and working practices in law and the impact of these on legal professionals’ wellbeing. Key findings include:
- High levels of burnout with 69% of participants having experienced mental ill- health in the 12 months prior to the survey.
- The largest age group of participants (37%) aged between 26 and 35 years old had the highest burnout scores, as well as having the highest work intensity, lowest autonomy and the lowest psychological safety.
TAKING POSITIVE STEPS TO CHANGE THE PERCEPTION OF THE INDUSTRY
Happily, some organisations have been taking steps to identify ways of raising awareness of wellbeing, as well as recognising, and offering support to affected individuals, as many of the issues associated with a lack of wellbeing can also affect the productivity of an individual in the workplace.
Some of the steps firms can take to tackle the mental health and well-being concerns of their employees are:
- Regular check-ins with employees, particularly new joiners, to ensure they feel supported.
- Offering mental health workshops.
- Encouraging employees to sign up to platforms and apps where they can access fitness classes and mindfulness training.
At Cleveland & Co we have come up with a number of strategies to deal with wellbeing concerns and keep our employees engaged, motivated and mentally resilient at work. Some of the steps we have taken include:
- Removing fixed working hours and we have significantly reduced the number of required billable hours.
- Coaching sessions with an external mentor to support professional and personal development.
- Hybrid and flexible working opportunities.
- Bonuses are not related to billable hours.
- Fair distribution of work to utilise when people have capacity and prevent others feeling overstretched.
- Weekly catch ups with line managers.
- Team yoga sessions.
- Mediation sessions.
- Happy hours and team socials.
- Celebrating team achievements at every team meeting.
- Supporting time off work if feeling burnt out.
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