As a firm, we’ve always prided ourselves on being caring to each other with a commitment to teamwork. So much so, we embedded these approaches as two of our corporate values.
But it was last year that our focus on mental health really came to the fore when our people selected wellbeing as one of our top three priorities.
Since then, we have set up a wellbeing task group, led by one of our partners, to better understand the role of the firm in improving staff’s sense of wellbeing at work and empowering them to access the increasing amount of support available.
Our task group has been striving to develop the strategy with the central purpose of embedding a positive culture of health and wellbeing within the firm.
One of the focus areas is mental health, and last year we supported Mental Health Awareness Week, which takes place from 18 to 24 May this year. The campaign aims to drive conversations on mental health to create lasting change. We believe this is something which we want everyone to feel they can talk openly about.
We ran mindfulness sessions led by external experts which all staff were invited to attend. We published a series of guest blogs, including one from myself, on our intranet from colleagues with experience of dealing with mental health issues and, importantly, their strategies for dealing with these issues.
We have a dedicated wellbeing section on our intranet, which is full of useful information and signposting to external resources, including details of our employee assistance programme phone number.
We also began the roll-out of wellness action plan training for staff, in conjunction with the mental health charity Mind, as well as delivering a learning programme targeted at managers to give them tools and support to help them manage their teams.
So, with the outbreak of the coronavirus emergency, we felt we were in a strong position to ensure we could very quickly provide proper support to staff.
This became even more apparent as the situation escalated and we understood the potential it would have to impact on our firm. Not only were people worried about the threat from the virus, there were also significant implications with nearly everyone having to work from home suddenly – and how this would affect them from a mental health perspective.
Since then, members of our leadership team have held weekly meetings with a significant focus on ensuring our people are at the heart of the conversations and decisions as the business continues to run.
The impetus for this has come from the top, with our managing partner Graham Street providing regular firm-wide updates. As well as the business continuity messages, Graham has focused on the critical need for all of us to check in with each other and championed the need for us to support each other from home during a challenging time generally. These updates have been shared via a variety of channels and Graham has also started filming regular vlogs on an additional platform which has been developed to keep everyone informed.
Elsewhere, managers are following his lead by checking in with their teams virtually. Their primary focus is on asking how their teams are and making the time to listen and advise as necessary.
Team meetings are taking place, and messages shared, with the help of the latest technology.
We’ve also redesigned our intranet homepage to incorporate a special coronavirus hub, featuring the updates from Graham and essential information.
We are also co-producing a video with Mind for our staff to highlight the impact the current situation will be having on people’s mental wellbeing. The video will provide guidance on the signs for people to look for which may cause concern, what people can do to help themselves and others as well as providing top tips and signposting useful material.
It’s also enabled us to share positive news and stories, such as Lunchtime Legends – our campaign to encourage people to share details of volunteering they are doing in their local community.
The firm’s social committee continues to be active and has arranged a 'virtual quiz' for the firm.
In these challenging times, communication with all staff is key. Whilst we may all be working from home, we are still very much together!
The last few weeks have also seen all limbs of the profession (solicitors, barristers and the judiciary) coming together and supporting each other. Not only is the profession, as a whole, exchanging ideas about how to address the practical and technological challenges we face, but it is really refreshing to see how wellbeing is now of critical importance, with suggestions and tips being openly shared about looking after your physical and mental wellbeing.
Only last week a senior judge shared his tips with local practitioners on looking after yourself at this difficult time.
Meanwhile, the Law Society has guidance which outlines best practice to support employees’ wellbeing in the workplace last year. This includes some helpful tips and practical steps firms of all sizes can use to approach wellbeing conversations with their staff.
I am convinced that a lot of good will also come out of the challenges we now face, although it has been a very steep learning curve for all of us.
Simon Bassett, partner at Royds Withy King, Oxford
*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.