Lockdown 3 has really started to take its toll on everyone and mental wellbeing is being undoubtedly tested. No one could have predicted that lockdown would have extended into the first quarter of 2021. Due to this, coupled with the winter weather and minimal daily sunlight, individuals have started to get itchy feet and this has resulted into some feeling demotivated.
It is extremely important that law firms and employers play a significant role in supporting the mental wellbeing of their employees and encourage them to stay positive and motivated.
From talking to many junior lawyers about the pandemic and virtual work environment in the current climate, it is clear that the most important things for employers to promote include a collegiate and collaborative virtual environment as well as encouraging employees to switch off by taking time away from the desk.
Recent mental wellbeing support
In January, the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD) organised a 30 Day Challenge for teams up to 10 to walk/run 500 miles collectively over a 30-day period for the JLD’s annual charity of the year, Refuge. This charity challenge had 26 teams from around the country sign up and over 250 individuals took part. An incredible amount was raised for Refuge, £7,540.00 (£8,692.50 with gift aid). Simultaneously, this challenge also helped individuals to feel part of a team in a virtual world and motivated the participants to get outside and keep active during January. Hannah Brown, a participant and trainee solicitor at Langleys, says after the challenge that “it has been great to hear people say how much of a positive impact it has had on their mental health.”
Many firms have started new mental wellbeing initiatives during the pandemic. The firm I work at, Fieldfisher has been expanding the Mental Health resilience first aid team, launching the Thrive wellness app, hosting a weekly Radio Fieldfisher request show, expanding the Inclusiveness Plus program (a Fieldfisher programme where inclusiveness & diversity meets L&D, wellness and mental health) to provide support for working parents and recently launching a Male Mental Health initiative. Many other firms that I have spoken to have increased the number of mental health first aiders within their workforce which is positive as it helps to create a working environment in which discussing mental health is no longer atypical. I have personally found the Thrive app to be extremely useful as it is separate from the workplace and encourages individuals to slow down, take time out and re-energise.
Another firm, Macfarlanes, created an Eid ‘Come Dine with me’ challenge which was popular among their staff and exercise zoom classes for their employees to keep active. Hilary Maurice, HR director at Macfarlanes, says mental wellbeing “support required often varies from person to person so we need to be agile enough to flex accordingly” which is very important because employers need to recognise that individuals have different needs.
Have firms changed the stigma surrounding mental health?
In recent years firms are encouraging discussions around mental wellbeing and putting together initiatives to help support their employees’ mental health. However, the legal sector still has a long way to go to ensure that all employees feel comfortable and able to discuss their mental wellbeing within the workplace and that they do not feel embarrassed to seek help. Many individuals see it as a weakness to ask for support and this is not something firms can change alone because this is a socio-economic problem, but changes can start to come from within the workplace.
It is clear that the pandemic has had a positive impact on firms and workplaces expanding their mental wellbeing support and hopefully these will continue post-pandemic. It is also hoped that in the near future, openly discussing mental health and wellbeing within the workplace as well as in society, will become the new norm.
Hannah Bignell is a corporate solicitor at Fieldfisher and executive committee member of the Junior Lawyers Division.