Continuing the conversation on mental health and wellbeing…

Continuing the conversation on mental health and wellbeing…

by Pete Riddleston | December 05, 2019
By Pete Riddleston, LawNet's Learning & Quality Director.

Including a panel discussion on mental health, wellbeing and the links between employee engagement and performance at our recent annual conference has generated an interesting response.  Our panel was able to draw on a wide range of experience and knowledge and we’re grateful to Robert Camp from Stephens Scown, Nick Bloy from Wellbeing Republic, Elizabeth Rimmer and Kayleigh Leonie, both representing LawCare, for agreeing to take part.

During the panel discussion, we touched on a number of themes including the Junior Lawyers’ Division Wellbeing Survey and the guidance which has followed, as well as talking about why lawyers experience stress which in some cases can contribute to depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses.

As part of the panel discussion we tried to give delegates some ideas about how to create a positive working culture and engage their employees to improve wellbeing and improve performance across the board.  Feedback on the panel discussion, alongside the conference as a whole, has been very positive but discussions with a number of delegates on the day and at subsequent LawNet events have presented a challenge, and with that a great opportunity, to provide further support and opportunities to share guidance and best practice tips with our members.

I first shared my own mental health story and the impact of anxiety and depression on my time as a solicitor and my career in learning and development about three years ago. My main reason for sharing my story was to try and start some conversations about mental health and I think I’ve certainly managed that, both in my life outside work and more recently in my role as Learning & Quality Director at LawNet.  The panel discussion was another opportunity to do this.

What’s been interesting since the conference has been that a number of people have said that they appreciated us putting the issue on the agenda and that we need to maintain a focus on this. The work done by the Junior Lawyers’ Division has shone a spotlight on the issues impacting junior lawyers but I’ve spoken to a number of senior lawyers in management and leadership positions who have highlighted the stresses that they face in what can sometimes be highly pressurised, lonely roles.

Sometimes, it can be difficult for senior leaders and managers to access support and share problems because of the nature of these roles and the expectations that they generate.  It’s not easy for a leader to put their hand up and say “I’m really stressed and I’m struggling to cope” although from my point of view, I see this type of response as a real strength rather than a weakness.  What this says to me is that the emphasis of wellbeing programmes needs to be very much on the organisation and its culture and how people treat and support each other day to day, from the top of the organisation down. Wellbeing can never be a tick box exercise.  Encouraging people to treat each other with compassion, beginning with the organisation’s leadership, is essential and can underpin true cultural change.

What came across very strongly from our panel discussion is that a thorough approach to employee engagement and wellbeing, incorporating a lot of listening and well thought out, targeted initiatives, can deliver real benefits and significantly improve the performance of the business.  One of the objectives that I will be building into our learning programme for 2020 is the opportunity for members not only to explore wellbeing and employee engagement in more depth but to share their own experiences and ideas.  A focus on wellbeing for all staff will be a big part of this but we’ll certainly be looking at particular support and guidance for senior leaders and managers too.  If the senior leaders in an organisation are struggling to deal with stress, then it makes it much more difficult to put the right support in place at other levels.

Pictured: Panel discussion at LawNet's annual conference 2019: Robert Camp, Nick Bloy, Kayleigh Leonie, Elizabeth Rimmer, Pete Riddleston.