10 Oct 2019
mental health in the legal sector

Are You Mindful Of Mental Health In The Legal Sector?

The issue of mental health has been in the news a lot over recent years. The penny has finally dropped that mental health in all sectors of society is a worrying and growing problem.

This is long overdue and finally shines a much-needed spotlight on the issues involved, including the heartbreaking toll that issues such as stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem are taking on UK society particularly in the workplace.

Recent stats from the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development show that nearly 61% of workers have suffered work-related mental health issues with a third of employees wrestling with long-term mental health problems.

And in a typically British response, only 46% of UK workers feel comfortable discussing their mental health with 20% preferring to phone in sick than expose they are suffering from a mental health episode.

The Costs Are Significant

A study by Deloitte in 2017 found that mental health issues cost UK industry nearly £8bn annually with 11% of all sick days attributable to psychological problems. Unfortunately, this is happening in the context of reduced mental health provision from state bodies.

The message is clear. These issues need to be addressed by employers in the workplace.

Mental Health Concerns In The Legal Sector

It’s worrying but not surprising to find that recent stats for the legal sector suggest that 50% of lawyers suffer from some form of work-related mental health illness.

The legal profession is by its nature stressful. The attributes that make a good lawyer also make them more susceptible to stress and anxiety. The role requires high levels of studied judgement and the need to deal with exacting detail on a daily basis.

Then there are traits such as perfectionism and the need to be people (or client) pleasers for both billing and career purposes. Add in the inevitable pessimism the role requires for when considering what could go wrong, combined with a heavy workload, and you get a heady cocktail of issues that can lead to mental health concerns.

Finally, when you overlay the fact that traditional legal workplaces are rarely conducive to individual mental or physical health in that they have a competitive, hierarchical, high-pressure and historically macho culture, it’s surprising only one in two lawyers are feeling the mental strain.

The Need For Change

It’s great that mental health is now recognised as an issue, particularly in the legal industry, as long as steps are being taken to address it. The encouraging news is that the legal sector is starting to tackle the problems and looking for ways to lessen the impact the industry can have on the mental health of employees. Better still, the sector is developing some useful ideas and interventions to change the culture and make proactive changes. And not before time.

It’s early days, but some of the initiatives under development, if implemented well, have a good chance of changing the legal sector for the better. Here are some of the solutions currently in flight.

  • Culture change programmes. A good number of firms are now determined to engage with the mental health agenda. These interventions include a holistic programme of work that includes raising awareness of and changing, the attitudes concerning mental health in the workplace. Initiatives may include proactive improvements in work/life balance, flexible working, mental health first aiders, encouraging staff to open up about their issues and training leaders in how to spot and manage mental health issues in their teams. Such programmes are ambitious and challenging to implement, but they are always worthwhile.
  • The Mindful Business Charter. Allied to the above this charter encourages legal and law firms to sign up to an approved code of conduct that promotes good mental health in the workplace. High-level signatories since the 2017 launch include Pinsent Masons, Barclays and Addleshaw Goddard.
  • Pro mental health techniques and philosophies. Some firms are looking at methods that employees can use to strengthen mental resilience. Mindfulness has had a lot of publicity in recent years and has proven to be useful in dealing with issues like anxiety. Other ideas include esoteric approaches like the use of eastern philosophies and spiritual guidance sessions.
  • Tech Solutions. App-based products like Spill. Founded in 2017 this app gives access to therapy and counselling services to its subscribers. Law firms can pay for a corporate subscription that allows their employees to use this unique tech solution to tackle their mental health issues quickly and efficiently.

These are all encouraging initiatives and clearly demonstrate that the legal sector is starting to take the core issues seriously and is seeking clever and creative ways to make a difference.

Implementation Is Everything

Now the ball’s rolling the emphasis needs to change. As legal firms start to recognise and embrace the mental wellbeing needs of employees, it’s now time to follow through. Law firms have to live up to the hype and not just tick boxes before moving onto the next workplace issue.

Mental wellbeing solutions should ensure there is a lasting change in workplace culture. One that encourages genuine autonomy of work, a sense of purpose, meaningful personal development and a caring, compassionate environment where people can talk about their feelings freely and without judgement.

There is still some way to go, but the initial signs are promising. And with an ever-widening variety of techniques under development allied to a growing awareness of the issues, the legal sector can only benefit from taking staff mental wellbeing seriously.

What’s more, as a final pay off, those firms that have implemented these kinds of programmes are finding that not only are their staff happier and more productive, their clients are more satisfied as well. In fact, some clients now demand that their firms have a meaningful wellbeing programme – and/or want tips and support from their firms in developing the same for themselves. All this ultimately has a positive impact on the bottom line – happy stakeholders, greater productivity, less sick days, more revenue – not much to argue with there!

Get In Touch

LexSolutions has developed a series of unique wellbeing and mindfulness programmes. Some are themed around Empathy, Resilience, Overload, Stress. Others are more bespoke. Either way, they are designed to provide our inhouse and law firm clients with a menu from which to select options – from supporting individuals or teams on key aspects right through to embedding an innovative and business-aligned culture with a strong emphasis on employee wellbeing.

For a discussion on how LexSolutions can support your team, department and/or firm to develop a corporate culture that supports and empowers your staff contact us directly at chris@lexsolutions.com or manu@lexsolutions.com or call 0203 7451574.