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Protecting Your Employees’ Mental Health

In today’s fast-paced, highly digitalised, and demanding work environment, protecting the mental health of employees has become a top priority for many law firms. The significant impact of mental well-being on productivity, engagement, and overall job satisfaction, is now well-established. In addition, employees are demanding more mental health support and employers are increasingly facing the threat of legal claims if a lack of support leads to harm. For example, at the beginning of June, The Law Society Gazette revealed that the Employment Tribunal is allowing more time for a claim brought by a mother on behalf of her son, a solicitor, who took his own life within days of being made redundant.

According to the report:

“[Mr] Fabry had been absent due to mental health issues in April to May 2019 and returned to work on 9 May, when he was given one month’s notice of redundancy. He took his own life on 14 May.

His mother claims that her son had a disability by reason of anxiety and depression and alleges that his firm discriminated against him. She claims that he was either dismissed because of his disability or because of his future need to take time off and potential requirement to make reasonable adjustments. She further alleges that the manner in which her son was dismissed ‘had the effect of violating Mr Fabry’s dignity’ or created a ‘hostile, humiliating, offensive’ environment.”

The firm in question has defended the allegations, stating that redundancies were necessary due to a lack of work coming into the firm and the partners who made the decision to let Mr Fabry go were unaware of his disabilities.

Tips for promoting positive mental health at work

1 Create and nurture a positive work culture

Building a positive work culture is essential for protecting employees’ mental health. Law firms can achieve this by encouraging open communication, collaboration, and mutual respect among all team members. Law firm employees should feel valued and acknowledged for their contributions. Small, inexpensive gestures such as giving movie tickets or restaurant vouchers to those who put in extra hours to complete a project can make all the difference.

2 Raise awareness of mental health at work

Increasing awareness and understanding of mental health is crucial for combating stigma and fostering a supportive work environment. Workshops, training sessions, and seminars allow HR/partners to educate employees about common mental health issues, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Promoting discussions around mental health helps reduce stigma, encourage empathy, and ensure employees are not afraid to seek help if required.

3 Have clear policies and procedures around mental health

It is vital to develop and implement robust policies and procedures around promoting and protecting mental health. These policies should address issues such as workplace harassment, discrimination, and bullying. Processes for reporting concerns and access to confidential channels need to be set out so staff members know where to go to seek help.

4 Provide resources

Offering resources and support for employees is crucial if your law firm is serious about protecting employees’ mental health. Consider establishing an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) that provides confidential counselling and referral services. You can also collaborate with mental health professionals or organisations that provide resources, such as online self-help tools or access to therapy sessions. Make sure to let team members know what support is available and how to access it.

5 Support staff in managing their workload

Excessive workloads, often an unavoidable situation in law firms, is a significant contributor to stress and burnout. Employers should strive to create manageable workloads, set realistic expectations, and support employees in delegating or seeking assistance when necessary. Also, remember to check in with remote workers to ensure they are coping with the amount of work required.

6 Train managers to spot signs of mental health struggles

Provide training for managers and supervisors on spotting signs of mental health challenges and fostering a culture where employees feel confident in confiding to someone that they require support. Managers need to learn skills around encouraging open and empathetic conversations, active listening, and responding appropriately to employees’ mental health concerns. In addition, ensure managers understand the importance of maintaining confidentiality and referring employees to available resources.

7 Establish peer support programmes

Peer support programmes such as employee-led support groups, mentorship programs, or buddy systems promote a sense of belonging to a team and provide a safe space for employees to discuss any issues with their work.

8 Lead by example

Leadership plays a crucial role in setting the tone for mental health support in the workplace. Partners should set an example by prioritising their own mental well-being by taking regular breaks and demonstrating a healthy work-life balance. For example, small gestures such as making it clear that no one is expected to send or respond to messages after a certain time or when they are on holiday and ensuring they leave the office at a decent time will help vanquish toxic presenteeism.

Wrapping up

Protecting the mental health of law firm employees is not only an ethical responsibility but also contributes to a more productive, engaged, and resilient workforce. By fostering a positive work culture, providing resources and support, promoting work-life balance, and training managers on mental health, employers can create an environment that prioritises mental well-being. This in turn will enhance your firm’s reputation and help you attract and retain the talent you need to grow and prosper.

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