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I think you could say that we have two strands to how we approach mental health and wellbeing within the firm. The first strand is what we do as a firm on a regular basis, and the second is our annual charity commitment.
As a firm we are a tight knit group, and most people are very engaged with what we offer, and as such feel comfortable to reach out and ask for help as and when it’s needed. This is something we pride ourselves on, having created a culture where it’s ok to ask for help, and to know that it will be given.
Pre-pandemic we decided to create trained mental health first-aiders. Many firms will have a trained first-aider per team, or floor or department – and that’s seen as a must have, it’s often a health and safety requirement for example. But what of the help people need that isn’t a physical issue? We feel it’s just as important that there is an immediate touchpoint for people who recognise they need mental health support. All employees know who the trained mental health first-aiders are, plus they’re listed on the HR section of our intranet in case they’re unsure. These first-aiders have been trained to listen to people and to point them in the direction of where they can find the help they need, let them know what resources the firm has that they might find useful and support that person in taking those first steps.
Particularly over the last year we have been mindful of how much extra strain staff have been dealing with on a daily basis, juggling working from home, caring responsibilities and the general anxiety the last year has created. Capacity has been a key focus point over the last year, and has been looked at closely on a frequent basis. Due to the stamp duty holiday we’ve been extremely aware that it would be all too easy to become overloaded with work. We’ve been able to very carefully manage this though as our new business comes through from one of our sister companies. This has allowed us to closely monitor the situation and as people neared what we felt was a manageable workload we were simply able to turn off that new business pipeline and ensure our staff didn’t become swamped, and consequently stressed.
It’s also ethos driven though, our senior staff care about the team and our head of legal practice embodies this. Laura Burkinshaw is an excellent leader who ensures that the team’s welfare is paramount, managing their capacity has been the main issue, not just getting through as much work as possible.
Also, earlier this year the directors of the company arranged a thank you card and some chocolates for every member of staff, thanking them for their hard work and acknowledging it hasn’t been an easy period. It’s the personal touch that we feel is important, ensuring each and every member of staff feels valued and their contribution is recognised.
We also have a monthly newsletter that highlights great pieces of work that have been done by staff, we feel it’s helpful to highlight the great work that is being done, and to have an outlet where we can sing people’s praises.
The second strand which we mentioned is the firm’s nominated annual charity. We not only want to support charities but also look to do it in a way which brings employees together. We survey employees annually for nominated charities and their reasoning and then a decision is made. This year and last the nominated charity is the Mental Health Foundation (MHF).
We have found them an incredible charity to partner with. The amount of resources on their website as well as what they send through to us has been great. We’ve been able to put posters up around the office reminding people that we have a wealth of resource now at our fingertips that they are able to access.
Fundraising for them has also created opportunities for us to find ways to bring people together over this last year even though we can’t physically be together. We’ve had themed dress down Fridays, so we had a bright colours day and a football themed day ahead of the European Cup.
In March the MHF do a month-long campaign called Take Action Get Active, which we participated in. We asked employees to make a pledge to get active, get outdoors and do something to boost their mental health – some pledges were 10,000 steps a day, or the popular Couch to 5K. This created a lot of camaraderie and opportunity to cheer each other on throughout the month and celebrate each other’s efforts and successes.
During the many lockdowns we’ve all been through we encouraged staff to send pictures in of them on their favourite walk, which we shared on our intranet. It was a way to create some talking points and helped to maintain a good supportive atmosphere even though we were all working remotely.
We also do a virtual quiz on a Friday night bi-monthly. This gives people a chance to let their hair down as it’s for employees and the rest of their households and to just have some fun. We’re fortunate enough to have ourvery own enthusiastic internal quiz master who has worked hard every fortnight to pull the quizzes together.
We’ve found efforts like these have been especially useful for those colleagues who have joined us during the pandemic and have had little or no face time with their new team. It’s an opportunity for them to chat and bond over something that isn’t work.
Happy and content employees isn’t just a ‘nice to have’ it’s essential – and viewing people as a whole rather than just a member of staff reminds us that we all have a duty to each other to look out for anyone who may be struggling, and to have support already in place. Having existing resources, and for example our mental health first-aiders, sends the message that ‘this happens, it’s ok, we know it happens’ – which we feel removes that first hurdle that people often stumble at, which is reaching out for help in the first place.