At LawCare, the charity offering emotional support to legal professionals, we have listened to thousands of people tell us about the stress, anxiety and depression that they are experiencing, which is often caused or exacerbated by a difficult working environment. Lack of support or supervision, an overly critical manager, being undermined after a career break, an unreasonably heavy workload, long hours and sleep deprivation are all common issues we hear about.
Organisations need to do their best to create a healthy and happy place to work, not only because it is the right thing to do, but because there is a strong proven business case for it. Happy employees lead to greater productivity, better morale, better retention of valued and experienced staff, and reduced sickness absence.
Here are our tips for creating a mentally healthy workplace.
Wellbeing is a leadership duty and getting senior leaders on board shows staff that wellbeing matters. Training senior managers in leadership and mental health by making staff wellbeing part of their job role is the best way to begin to change the culture of an organisation.
Consider introducing mental health days or personal days, as well as sick days. People will feel that they can take a day off if they are struggling, which means they may be less likely to go off sick later.
Finally, encourage colleagues to treat each other with respect (for example, by saying hello and thank you) and not raising their voice or threatening each other. Make sure there are clear and effective systems in place for reporting bullying.
It is vital that people at all levels in your organisation talk openly about mental health. Encourage sharing of stories from people within the organisation or invite a speaker to talk. Lived experiences can help break down stigma and stereotypes.
Use existing internal communications channels to talk about wellbeing and sign the Time to Change pledge. This will send a clear message that it’s okay to talk about mental health.
Support work-life balance
Having the time to pursue the things that we enjoy and spend time with friends and family is vital to wellbeing. Staff will take cues from how leaders behave, so encourage everyone to work sensible hours. For example, by:
- Taking full lunch breaks.
- Resting and recuperating after busy periods.
- Avoiding working at weekends.
- Taking annual leave entitlement.
Make sure teams are sufficiently well resourced to make this happen. In addition, it is important to have a sensible email policy in place for the sending and receiving of emails outside core working hours.
Flexible working can support healthier and more productive ways of working for all staff, and lead to increased morale, commitment, productivity and reduced sickness absence. It can also be a vital early intervention to prevent mental health problems from getting worse and can support a phased return to work.
Encourage learning and development
Everyone needs to feel valued and supported, and that their work is meaningful. A positive culture that values all staff and invests in their skills and development builds the trust and integrity essential to maintaining commitment and productivity levels.
Embed mental health in inductions and training. Staff will then understand how mental health is managed and what support is available. This will also help them to look out for colleagues, support them and signpost them for help.
Offer mentoring and peer support
Mentoring and buddy schemes can help new staff get to know your organisation quickly and can support all staff in gaining confidence and developing new skills. Reverse mentoring (pairing a junior member of staff with a senior leader in the organisation) can be effective too. In addition, peer support can allow colleagues to support one another outside the line-management structure.
Provide good supervision
Good line management can help manage and prevent stress. Managers should make themselves available for regular work-related conversations with staff. It is important to monitor the happiness levels of your staff and have a robust performance review system in place that includes a wellbeing element. Consider 360-degree appraisals and use anonymous internal surveys, if necessary.
Be mindful if staff or colleagues are working in areas that can be emotionally difficult. They may need additional support, the opportunity to share their experiences or advice on techniques for coping. Your organisation may need additional support or training to provide adequate supervision or to engage the services of a third party, such as a counsellor, for staff working in emotionally difficult areas of law.
LawCare provides a free confidential helpline for all branches of the legal profession, peer support and training, talks and other resources. Visit www.lawcare.org.uk or call the helpline on 0800 279 6888.