Lawyers are the second most stressed professionals in the UK, according to a recent survey from UK insurance firm Protectivity - with 63 per cent in the legal industry reporting stress daily.
Meanwhile, the International Bar Association (IBA) global survey found the most commonly cited reasons the profession has a negative impact on personal wellbeing are stress, high work load, work-life balance, culture and the mental or physical impact.
Despite 82 per cent of institutional respondents stating that the wellbeing of their employees and members is a priority, very few have measures in place to assess the impact of any wellbeing initiatives they may have, and only 16 per cent provide wellbeing training for managers or those in senior positions.
It doesn’t matter if a firm is in the Magic Circle, a big national player or high street, a lack of wellbeing support can lead to poorer productivity, burnout, and stress. A firm’s revenue depends almost solely on how dedicated, engaged and committed their people are with their work. Therefore, supporting the wellbeing of their people and providing a healthy working culture is vital for continued success.
The pandemic has created new opportunities for the legal profession to rethink wellbeing and reassess unhealthy working practices. It’s prompted the industry to strive for a healthier long-term solution. One that is preventative, supportive and focuses on emotional intelligence.
Now, more than ever, partners and HR teams have an opportunity to be proactive in how they tackle wellbeing challenges within their firm. By enabling employees to thrive, firms will yield greater engagement, retention and attract the next generation of forward-thinking associates.
Read on to discover the main challenges and how you can solve them in two simple steps.
The Three ‘Isms’ Of Stressed Employees
Your people are the lifeblood of your firm and potential future partners that could be driving the direction of the firm and growing its portfolio of clients. Their physical and mental health needs to be in optimal condition for sharp and creative thinking that the profession demands.
No doubt your people want to stay on top, but at what cost? As a leader, you need to be on top of potential problems and take a bigger picture view when it comes to supporting your people. Left unchecked, an unhealthy, unhappy team can create a toxic environment in the workplace that becomes a roadblock to growth and success.
Start looking for negative patterns and nip them in the bud. Here are three types of behaviour that raise questions about an employee’s wellbeing.
Leaveism, where workers take annual leave to catch up on their workload or work outside of their contracted hours, is prevalent and on the rise. The CIPD’s recent survey found seven in ten (70%) businesses had seen leaveism in action. Working from home during the pandemic has blurred the hours of “normal work”, and concerns about job security is another factor.
Common signs of leavism are:
● Employees working outside their contracted hours
● Employees also working during their designated holiday period
Professionals in the legal sector could be pushing themselves to the absolute limit, in addition to dealing with the challenges of stress and anxiety brought about by the pandemic.
The CIPD, in their Health and Wellbeing survey, found that presenteeism (the act of going to work when you are ill or staying at work longer than usual) was widespread.
The IBA has released interim results of their global evaluation of wellbeing in the legal profession. The statistics released already show the stigma associated with legal professionals voicing health problems. A staggering 41 per cent of respondents said they could not talk with their employer about wellbeing, because they believed it affected their career.
● In the last 12 months, a massive 84% of respondents had seen presenteeism in action
● At the workplace, it was 75%, and for those working at home, it rose to 77%
Forward-thinking firms are starting to understand the challenges of wellbeing in the legal profession. But there is still a lot of room for improvement. Wellbeing in the workplace is no longer a nice-to-have. It needs to be an essential element of your people strategy. The IBA interim report also highlighted a stark fact, that a meagre 16 per cent of managerial positions have had proper wellbeing training. This statistic means many managers do not have the skills, knowledge and resources to support their team.
Employee absence comes with a high cost for any industry. But not every business takes the time to assess all the costs of absenteeism. Those who track expenses tend to only look at the obvious ones, such as the payment for the sick person and the cost to pay for somebody to cover their work. But other areas affected are:
● The motivation of the professionals who are covering the work
● The disruption to your productivity
● The quality of the service you can give to your clients
Absenteeism of lawyers also comes at a significant cost in terms of lost billable hours. It would help if you got to the bottom of absenteeism, as there could be underlying factors, such as burnout, poor mental health or caring for a loved one. Dig deep to find out more if it is becoming an issue in your firm.
You Can Take Direct Action To Help Your Employees
If you want to resolve these problems, the first step is to recognise that there is an issue. Mark Rowland, Chief Executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said, “distress is part of the human condition and something we all need to recognise and respond better to”.
Taking steps to reduce negative impacts on the wellbeing of employees in the sector can help you to create and maintain a harmonious environment, which is part and parcel of being a forward-thinking leader.
Step One - Give Employee Wellbeing A Starring Role
Make wellbeing an integral part of your firm, so it filters down from the top. Vow to add it to the agenda of your next board meeting. Not as a “one-off” but as a permanent fixture.
Ask your employees what they want and need. You may be surprised to hear their fears, stresses and workplace triggers. These regular insights can open your eyes to simple changes you can make that can make a significant difference to an employee’s experience and the culture of the firm.
Step Two - Invest In A Comprehensive Wellbeing Program
The legal sector is taking steps to enhance wellbeing and drive cultural change across the industry with an array of initiatives. However, many initiatives are siloed and struggle to achieve the desired engagement, or even effectively manage stress, burnout or new challenges created as a result of the pandemic.
There is no ‘one’ wellbeing challenge in law, and we cannot assume everyone experiences the same challenges when it comes to personal wellbeing. That’s why a wellness program that integrates and streamlines initiatives and creates an ‘always-on’ approach, can help you engage a diverse workforce and address a plethora of wellbeing challenges.
Aside from saving the firm’s HR team an immense amount of time and extra effort, a strategic wellbeing program tackles many wellbeing challenges at once, offering an array of support, education and inspiration for employees.
Takeaways That Can Help You Excel
We need to ask ourselves whether the old ways of approaching wellbeing are working - or if they have revealed the possibility for change.
Don’t underestimate the power of creating a wellbeing strategy and partnering with a trusted provider to offer a customised wellbeing program that will effectively support your people. When you take the time to look after your team, they will become more invested and reward you with discretionary effort, while feeling empowered to take care of their personal wellbeing.
Simon Sinek said, "When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.”
Discover how Libratum can empower your employees and help you grow from the inside out. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1) Stress Survey by Protectivity - 2018 - https://www.protectivity.com/stress-in-the-uk
2) International Bar Association (IBA), 2019-2020), mental wellbeing in the legal profession
3) Absence Measurement and Management 2021 - CIPD https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/fundamentals/relations/absence/factsheet#gref
4) Health and Wellbeing At Work 2021 - CIPD https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/health-wellbeing-work-report-2021_tcm18-93541.pdf
5) International Bar Association 2021 - Global Evaluation of Wellbeing in the Legal Profession (Interim results) https://www.ibanet.org/article/09C3DA0E-723F-4E21-9A7E-AA0DFF1FB627
6) Quote from Chief Executive - Mental Health Foundation 2020 https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/blog/why-we-need-reboot-our-thinking-mental-health-2021