Laurin Campbell, a trainee solicitor at Brodies, explains how law firms can take the initiative in supporting their staff's wellbeing and why new lawyers in particular should take advantage of what their employers make available.
Achieving a good work/life balance can be a challenge as a new lawyer. Keen to impress, we like to be seen working hard and putting in the hours. While this is undoubtedly important for career development, it shouldn’t be to the detriment of our wellbeing. Burnout is all too common in the profession and this can stem from, or be exacerbated by, the habits formed early in our career.
Sometimes, in amongst the busyness of working life, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do things that, deep down, you know will make you feel good. It becomes really easy to make excuses for doing things that are important for our health and wellbeing: do you have time to make a nutritious packed lunch every day? Do you have the energy to go out for a run after a long day at the office? We’ve all had that little voice in our head stopping us from doing something and that can be really difficult to overcome.
At Brodies, we’re lucky to have a great internal support network that promotes healthy living, which makes it a whole lot easier to make positive choices. The BWell group is a team of staff from across the firm that works together to develop wellbeing-related initiatives. By taking part in these with friends and colleagues, keeping healthy and happy becomes less of a chore!
In 2015, Brodies was accredited as an Investor in People and an Investor in Young People. For this, an independent assessor met with staff from across the firm to determine whether or not we were supporting the professional development of our staff, harbouring a positive and engaging culture, and ensuring everyone has a reasonable work/life balance.
Having met the standard, we are now working towards achieving the Bronze, Silver and Gold awards. Additionally, in July this year, we were awarded Bronze Accreditation from Healthy Working Lives, having shown evidence that the firm was supporting the mental, social and physical wellbeing of its staff, as well as meeting the required standards of health and safety across all offices. Here are some highlights from the initiatives we run:
- Free yoga/Pilates in each office
- Fresh fruit Wednesdays
- Dress down days
- Health and Safety week, including workshops, seminars, activities and competitions to encourage healthier mental and physical habits in work and at home
- Social budgets (both firm-wide and departmental)
- Charity sporting events
Our BWell team also conducts activities to raise awareness of health issues and to support staff members in times of difficulty or transition. Currently, we are developing a line manager training programme in partnership with Healthy Working Lives and Canada Life (which provides our Employee Assistance Programme – Counselling Service). One of the main focuses of the programme will be to help managers maintain a ‘mentally healthy workplace’, through identification of early warning signs of mental health issues and advice on how best to support colleagues through them.
New lawyers at Brodies have dedicated support structures in place too. As a trainee, on top of my quarterly reviews that monitor and enhance my development, I also have access to a mentor. My mentor provides guidance on managing my workload and is on hand to help with any issues I encounter. This relieves pressure from me, as I know that I have someone to turn to if I am struggling. A development programme has also been set up to assist with the process of transitioning from trainee to newly qualified solicitor, with additional training in place to deal with some of the unique challenges faced by those taking on their first role post-qualification.
In this environment, we are encouraged to progress in our careers while maintaining a healthy approach to life, both in and out of the office. It is possible to find a balance and the internal support mechanisms at our firm foster this.
Investing in people
The greatest asset a law firm has is its staff. By investing in wellbeing, a firm can encourage a happier and healthier workforce. In turn, this can lead to productivity gains and also an increase in staff retention. By providing a supportive environment, individuals are more likely to nourish themselves. Wouldn’t you find it easier to go to a fitness class that takes place in your office or to ask for help from a colleague where there are clear support structures in place?
You don’t have to be in a big firm to benefit from investment in wellbeing and a commitment to a healthy workplace doesn’t have to involve much financial expenditure. Start with the small things. Try asking a colleague to join you for a short walk at lunchtime or arrange a meal out for the office/your team. You could challenge your workmates to train for an event or to learn a new skill. By involving others, you may be more likely to stick to your own wellbeing goals and you might just find that the office becomes a more pleasant place to be.
The workplace environment can have a massive impact on new lawyers and our ability to develop good working habits for life, so here’s my plea to law firms: commit to building a culture of wellbeing. Encourage healthy life choices and you too will reap the rewards.
And what can new lawyers do? Engage with your team. You have the power to be a positive influence. Take advantage of the internal support that is on offer at your firm and help to develop it. You are the future of the profession and you can place wellbeing at its heart.