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In the legal world mental wellbeing is a difficult topic, you’ll find people always trying to hide how they are feeling and pretend to be coping. Lawyers are trained to be in control, to have all the answers, and not to show uncertainty or weakness – therefore, when they’re in that working environment it can be difficult for them to let that go among their peers and many worry that if they voice their struggles it will be perceived as weakness.
It’s still quite a conservative industry and long hours are often expected under incredible levels of stress – of course people are going to need help. There shouldn’t be any shame in that at all. I recently saw a survey that said 40% of all conveyancing lawyers know someone who has left the industry due to mental health reasons. I find that incredibly sad, people leaving a profession they once cared about and trained long and hard to join because the stress is just too much.
The pandemic has obviously changed things. The last year has been helpful in finally highlighting that mental health and wellbeing are important, they’re crucial to happy, confident employees who feel heard and have their work recognised. In turn, happy confident employees are productive employees and so you’re much more likely to have a successful business.
However, the conveyancing industry has over the last year or so experienced workloads like no other, the stamp duty deadline has created unparalleled demand and is a clear example of how people will just burn out without the right support.
We’ve taken on 30 lawyers in the last seven months, and through the interview process we have seen and heard of people who haven’t had a good experience with their previous employers, they feel unsupported, with little to no ongoing supportavailable –in contrast we try to create a peaceful haven.
From the outset new staff are assigned a ‘buddy’, someone who is there for them on a day-to-day basis for general questions and support. We encourage people to speak openly, from their first interview to onboarding. New joiners have daily one to one catch-ups, as well as an appointed person from senior management who they have ongoing contact with. The whole team gets a call at least once a month, often once a week, with someone from our senior management team to catch up and have a direct line of communication to voice concerns or make suggestions and ask questions – we find it very positive.
We offer weekly wellness classes, these cover areas such as breathing and meditation – we’re also happy to pay for life coaches for individuals – and we make this available during office hours, hosted in the office, to ensure we aren’t side-lining these issues, or encroaching on people’s lives outside of work in order to provide support. We also host weekly seminars which address work-based issues such as how to manage your clients, how you can effectively manage expectations, and how to avoid being bullied by clients. I think lawyers can often feel they have to keep giving and giving to clients and sometimes that’s just not feasible, from an emotional or work capacity point of view. We want to empower our employees so that they provide the service we expect, but that they know for their wellbeing to be looked after they need to be in control. Sometimes they will need to leam how to push back on clients and take back control of how the case is running.
We also like to hire outside speakers who provide interesting viewpoints for our staff or encourage members to attend outside training train forward in the office. For example, pre-pandemic we had aSAS Major in to talk about motivation and keeping teams together. We’ve held a training session from an ex-CEO of Asda, who turned the company around from when they were in administration. Four years later they were one of the most successful companies based on value. Anyone who can provide an interesting insight to our team on how they’ve achieved things, and how they’ve looked at difficult situations and turned them around, we feel is inspiring.
We also look at how we can support employees outside of the office, we have helped people to better cope with their anxieties. For example, even a phobia of driving by paying for lessons and, if we know an employee is having a difficult time we’re more than happy to arrange time off so they can be with family, help to provide marriage counselling - whatever it is needed to help people get back on track.
Some firms might baulk at how much we invest, but we think it’s vital. Our view is that we wouldn’t have any profits without our employees, so it’s only right to invest in them.
While we don’t do it for the recognition, it was a proud moment being named UK’s number 2 for wellbeing in the British Conveyancing Awards and 7th in The Guardian best places to work for wellbeing last year. We were also included in the listings for best places to work for women and overall best place to work.
I hope what we do sends a strong message out to other firms that there is another way of doing things. It will help them and especially their team.