Employers must take the lead… not wait for mental health problems to overcome their staff

People are the greatest asset a business can have. Like many other employers, our firm depends on having a healthy and productive workforce.

However, working in the legal profession can mean hard work, long hours and, at times, the pace of work is highly pressurised. Decisions based on advice from lawyers often have a huge impact on people’s lives.

All of this can affect our people. Mental health problems do not discriminate between junior and senior staff, lawyers or support staff.

For most employers, the focus is now on being more proactive around employee engagement and preventative initiatives whereas previously it tended to be reactive management of sickness absence.

However, stigma and discrimination still exists when it comes to mental health, particularly in the workplace. HR teams play a critical role in tackling this stigma, as well as supporting employees with existing mental health conditions and those in leadership positions must commit to fostering a culture that values openness.

It’s still much easier to talk about our physical health and take time off work because of that than it is to talk about depression, stress or anxiety. People fear being open as they don’t want to be perceived as weak or think it will damage their career prospects.

So how do we break the taboo? By making small, incremental changes, consistently applied, over time.

Leaders must exemplify the behaviour they want to promote by being open, honest, supportive and understanding around the issue of mental health rather than shy away from it.

Encourage your teams to take annual leave and refresh away from work (without their phones being on while they are away). Mental health should be a boardroom priority and bringing the language around it into the workplace will help normalise it and encourage staff to be honest with managers and access support.

As most organisations now understand, the business case for making staff mental health a priority is as strong as any moral case. When employees are valued and supported and feel their work is meaningful, they tend to have higher wellbeing levels, are more committed to an organisation’s goals and perform better.

Skills such as teamwork, collaboration and problem solving all require employees who are mentally healthy, resilient and motivated. Many people now prioritise a healthy work-life balance and a positive workplace over financial packages and glossy perks. Business leaders simply cannot afford to ignore mental health issues.

We are starting to see a shift in attitudes towards mental health issues in our own firm. World Mental Health Day was marked via an internal campaign with tips on making small changes to our working day to boost our wellbeing, arranging walks with our colleagues in each office to encourage people to take a break and talk to each other.

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week and we have been signposting where those who are struggling can seek confidential help and support. We are encouraging our people to learn how best to manage their own wellbeing and offering information on nutrition, physical exercise, sleep, resilience building and mental health. We also offer a confidential Employee Counselling service and made staff aware of the support available via LawCare - an independent charity which promotes and supports good mental health and well-being to all in the legal community.

Our people are individuals and there is no one-size-fits-all approach. There is much still to be done and it is vital that increased awareness and engagement about mental health continues to be turned into action. The stigma will not disappear overnight but if we all work together, good mental health will be a mainstream issue for all businesses.

As featured on insider.co.uk.

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