It is no secret that the life of a lawyer can be challenging, tiring, and extremely stressful as your firm faces endless tight deadlines and case overload. Chances are there are lawyers at your firm struggling to find the time to consider their own well-being or how to initiate some type of balance in their work and personal life.
We know from countless studies that when employees feel their well-being is supported by their company, they thrive in other areas of their lives – emotionally, mentally, physically, and intellectually. Support can include everything from providing ongoing professional and wellness development opportunities to encouraging healthy eating and sleep habits. So, how do you improve your legal team’s well-being when you’re in a field that’s historically known for long hours and high pressure?
Start simple and do your research
The first step is to consider implementing an employee wellness plan. Employees will recognize and respect your firm’s attempt at making their lives more fulfilling and manageable, which will depend wholly on the size and capabilities of your law firm. While larger law firms may be able to implement bigger changes, rolling out extensive plans might be a struggle for small to mid-size firms. In that case, consider making changes to your workplace culture that make a comparable impact.
When considering where to begin and what’s feasible for your firm, find out what is most important to your employees and what challenges they are experiencing. For example, whether your lawyers or staff have parental responsibilities or long commutes, it is important to acknowledge those realities. It will be helpful when trying to understand what they are dealing with outside of the office that might be contributing to their stress, for example, during the workday.
To learn more about your individual lawyers and staff members, you could send out a company survey asking specific questions, or simply have conversations around the office to get a feel for what their needs are and what’s important to them to best support their well-being.
If you’re still unsure where to start, the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) offers these suggested initiatives: emergency childcare assistance, flexible working arrangements, and the opportunity to have educational or community service hours to promote professional development as well as volunteerism.
Provide mental health support
Workplace stress can be caused by several things. Whether it’s a difficult relationship in the office, challenging clients, a heavy workload, or struggles with work/life balance, they can all impact an employee’s mental health. The roots of mental illness are complex, but no matter the causes, it’s important to reduce the stigma around mental health, and instead, support those affected by it.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five people will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. The same association states that by age 40, approximately 50% of Canada’s population will have or have had mental illness.
To help offset these statistics, offer your staff mental health and stress management education and programs. You might also consider planning quarterly or biannual team-building activities to manage stress and help your team connect on an interpersonal level.
Promote mindfulness and exercise
It is also important to offer employees health promotion tools such as mindfulness and exercise. A firm that values the health and wellness of its employees is more likely to add and retain new lawyers than one that does not. Some examples are offering a weekly yoga class or, to encourage employees to be active, offering discounts at gyms or other specialty studios. You might also offer your employees a quiet spot for guided meditation, or simply time out of their day to get up and move.
Recognize your firms’ talent
Finally, don’t forget that a little appreciation can go a long way. Studies have shown that for a relatively small investment, recognizing your employees and their good work can have a positive impact on the culture of your firm.
Treating an employee to lunch or handing them a gift card to show your appreciation for a job well done shows your staff that they are valued and that their hard work is respected. One way to make employee recognition simpler is to maintain an inventory of gift cards to a nearby coffee shop, for example. That way, supporting your staff is as easy as opening your desk drawer and writing a brief note.
No matter what avenue you choose, employee wellness needs to be incorporated into your law firm management practices. The cost is something your firm can control with thoughtful, responsible decisions, and the outcomes are good for your business and the people behind it.