Our Careers and Wellbeing Manager Olivia Moore takes a look at the recent International Bar Association (IBA) global research into mental wellbeing in the legal profession and considers how the findings compare with Society’s own research in this area.

The recently published IBA report on mental wellbeing in the legal profession globally makes for interesting reading and in looking at the report’s key findings, we can draw some parallels with our work on mental health and wellbeing within the Scottish legal sector.

The IBA research

The initial phase of the IBA project consisted of two global surveys: one for individual lawyers, the other for law firms and other legal institutions, including bar associations, law societies and in-house legal departments.

3256 people completed the individual survey, with 186 organisations completing the institution survey. The main findings from these surveys have now been released.

What are the key findings?

The survey of individuals looked at what factors can influence wellbeing for people within the workplace and analysed how they feel.

The top three factors that negatively impact on wellbeing are: competing demands (70%), long hours (63%), unrealistic time pressures (61%).

When asked how effective employers had been in dealing with these issues as well as a range of others, responses were more negative than positive.

  • 25% said employers had been highly/somewhat effective in relation to competing demands, with 36% saying employers were highly/somewhat ineffective
  • 23% said employers had been highly/somewhat effective in relation to unrealistic time pressures, with 48% saying employers were highly/somewhat ineffective
  • 16% said employers had been highly/somewhat effective in relation to long hours, with 53% saying employers were highly/somewhat ineffective

The IBA used the World Health Organisation’s wellbeing index score methodology to look at how respondents had felt over the two weeks prior to completing the survey in relation to: daily life being full of interest, whether people felt refreshed and rested, active and vigorous, calm and relaxed, cheerful and in good spirits. Notably, wellbeing index scores were lower for women than men in all age groups. Also, lower scores were consistently recorded among those who identify as minority ethnic or have a disability.

The institutional survey, among other things, looked at what employers could do to improve wellbeing support. 28% of respondents want to see an improved workplace culture, with 23% citing direct interventions and support and 20% citing improved workload/work-life balance.

Stigma was also highlighted as a major issue. On a sliding scale of 0-10, with 0 representing ‘mental wellbeing is not acknowledged or discussed at all’ and 10 representing ‘mental wellbeing is commonly and openly discussed’ the mean score across the world was 4.8, demonstrating how far we have to go in breaking the taboos surrounding this subject. The problem is particularly acute outside of Europe and North America.

How do the IBA survey findings compare to the Society's?

The IBA research gives us a broad picture of mental health and wellbeing and supplements the research we carried out in partnership with See Me, the Scotland-wide programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination.

Our report, published in 2020, focused on stigma and discrimination within workplaces as well as on workplace culture. The IBA’s survey shows that analysing workplace culture and stigma specifically is very useful, as survey respondents cited it as the main area where they felt employers could make progress.

We used a different methodology and different questions for our research, making it difficult to contrast like-for-like data. However, there are a few things we can usefully compare to gain further insight into how issues around mental health and wellbeing affect the profession in Scotland in comparison with our peers around the world.

The IBA research shows the main areas of focus requested by employees for employers to make progress were increased levels of openness around discussing wellbeing in the workplace, and better resources for wellbeing management and improvement in the workplace, especially for those in senior positions. These are themes mirrored in our own research and play a large role in the three-year action plan that we created as a result.

Tackling stigma around mental health 

Stigma is shown to be a major issue. 41% of respondents to the IBA survey said that they could not discuss wellbeing issues with their employer without worrying that it would damage their career or livelihoods. In our survey, 31% of people did not feel they could disclose their mental health problem without fear of being moved to another post or of passed over for promotion.

Access to training was identified as low in both the IBA and the Society's research findings. 16% of the IBA institutional survey respondents saying managers had access to training. In our own survey, 29% of those at a management/supervisory role said they had received training in their current organisation.

Following our research and development of our action plan to tackle mental health stigma and discrimination in the profession, we will continue to engage with our members on changing workplace culture by opening up conversations around mental health and, importantly, developing the right support mechanisms over the next three years.

Read more about our action plan and get in touch with us at wellbeing@lawscot.org.uk

Lawscot Wellbeing

Leading emotional wellbeing for Scottish solicitors and their employees across Scotland, England and Wales and beyond.

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.

Our Mental Health Awareness Week programme of events

Explore our full programme of events for Mental Health Awareness Week 2021, which runs from May 10-14. We are running daily lunchtime sessions on a different theme, from reflecting on what we've learned about wellbeing during the pandemic, to accessing innate resilience and fertility awareness.