Olivia Moore, Careers Development Officer at the Law Society of Scotland, lays out steps smaller employers could incorporate to devise a simple wellbeing strategy.

During Mental Health Awareness Week 2020, we ran a workshop focused on how high-street practices could develop a mental health strategy, through the lens of adapting to the coronavirus pandemic. This session was facilitated by Trish McLellan from Lawcare and attended by leaders and employees from different high street practices across Scotland.

It was acknowledged that the culture and atmosphere at work were what mattered most, but that having a strategy or policy focused thoughts and commitment. We collected the key points from the discussion, which help give small firms some first-steps to consider when trying to effectively support colleagues in the current environment.   

All participants felt that more flexible/agile working would feature longer term, therefore many of the recommendations focus on adapting to new working practices like working from home, or flexibly in the office.

Work on keeping the team ‘together’
  • Communicate with your team about what strategies can be put in place. Leaving people in the dark can cause stress and anxiety. Teams will appreciate being brought on board and will bring their own ideas about how the workplace could adapt to suit different peoples’ needs.
  • Consider how rotating staff in and out of the office could create a better balance for all staff, but speak to colleagues to find out if this would work for them. Some firms may find they could have half the staff in the office at a time, rotating days so everyone spends five days out of ten in the office.
  • Make time for the ‘fun’ element of team dynamics. Look at how you can keep morale high and the team engaged by running things like weekly quizzes, coffee catch ups, virtual drinks etc. While these aren’t ‘business critical’ they can make a big impact to people’s wellbeing, productivity and commitment.
Be mindful of workloads and ability to work effectively
  • Set boundaries for overwork. Perhaps either via a firm handbook/policy, or by regular communication from leadership there can be a clear ethos reflected that work is not expected beyond nine-to-five, or other core hours if staff are working flexibly. Take care to communicate that while staff are expected to fill their diaries, they observe sensible, healthy boundaries. Managers should support any ongoing issues with overwork.
  • Carefully manage workload division. This may be more difficult when working from home, so it can be helpful if someone’s role includes overseeing work is distributed in a fair manner.
  • Explore access to better technology. This can have a major impact on wellbeing while remote working and will help keep the team steady while working patterns are variable. Solutions like LawWare or other online case management systems were identified as crucial to ensuring business continuity.
Offer specific support where it’s needed
  • Speak to your colleagues to find out their specific needs. Understand how working from home fits in with their work and personal life and maintain flexibility where possible according to people’s preferences. Parents may have particular issues with work/life balance for example, especially as schools remain closed for an extended period of time.
  • Focus on furloughed staff. Being furloughed can create a mix of emotions. While people are off on furlough make sure you keep in touch and keep people informed. When it comes to bringing people back into the office, invest time to have proper conversations with colleagues especially if they’ve been off for several months, making sure they are inducted back into work appropriately and are getting used to the new team dynamics.
  • Speak to your junior members of staff about their career concerns. A lot of trainees and newly qualified solicitors, particularly those who have been on furlough, are concerned about the impact of the pandemic on their careers. Peer support or external mentoring may also be an option as well as spending time to talk about areas of concern in professional or personal development. We run an established mentoring programme at the Law Society.
Involve other team members in the wellbeing agenda
  • Recruit wellbeing champions, who could have an active role in supporting leadership with a mental health strategy and ensuring signposting and support. Ensure as a leader you continue to promote any wellbeing-related work and campaigns, as senior buy-in is valuable.
  • Train mental health first aiders. A major advantage of training staff is that people will feel empowered to support one another. It’s often hard to start conversations if you’re worried about a colleague and a lot of people feel like it isn’t ‘their place’. Training staff can help people feel more confident to have open conversations and can help form a valuable peer-support system.

Our wellbeing research

We have collaborated with See Me to undertake research into the status of mental health stigma and discrimination in the Scottish legal profession. Read the summary, full report and the seven-step action plan created in response to the findings.