Law firms to see once in a generation shift in employee benefits and wellbeing in 2022



04 January 2022

An overhaul of employee benefits and wellbeing strategies, and a focus on mental health are expected to be high priorities for law firms in 2022 in response to the pandemic, says Robbie Weston, Executive Director, Asset Management and Legal at Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing.

Robbie says, “We predict a seismic shift in benefits and wellbeing in 2022 as law firms review their benefits on a scale we haven’t seen for a long time and check whether their offer is still fit for purpose post-Covid. We also expect mental health to be high on the wellbeing agenda and a growing focus for legal sector employers.”

This comes as a new report by the Legal Sector Workers United (LSWU)i found that more than seven out of ten legal workers said their job has a negative impact on their mental health and wellbeing. Long hours and being overworked were the main causes behind their decline in mental health, followed by pay and pressure to meet targets for billable hours.

The report highlights that one in four law firms have no mental health support for their staff. The majority (72%) also said they would not feel comfortable requesting time off for mental health reasons, fearing it would impact their career prospects.

Robbie says, “There is a once in a generation opportunity for law firms to review their health and wellbeing benefits. We recommend that smaller firms consider how benefits such as private medical insurance can play a role in supporting employees. For larger firms, it’s time to implement a dedicated wellbeing strategy, which addresses the specific wellbeing challenges faced by employees.”

Pre-pandemic, the legal sector had started to focus on wellbeing, but it was still in its infancy in terms of approach and solutions. This is set to change in 2022 and beyond.

It was recently reported that international law firms are launching wellbeing programmes and taking steps such as hiring “burnout advisers” to hold on to staff as a boom in deals activity stokes a war for talentii. UK-based Ashurst and US group Baker McKenzie are amongst those to have introduced programmes to improve staff mental health and retention.

Another firm, Walker Morris, has introduced a new sabbatical scheme for lawyers as a way of nurturing a healthy work/life balance, and global law firm Kennedys Law LLP is giving its workers an annual ‘wellbeing day’ to encourage them to look after their mental healthiii.

Research by legal software provider, Access Legal also found that 48% of law firms are making mental health and wellbeing training a priorityiv.

Robbie adds, “The market for wellbeing is growing up and more firms are recognising the importance of looking after their staff. We will see “wellbeing 2.0”, as law firms centralise their wellbeing initiatives into more mature and technology-enabled strategies. Technology and digital solutions will play a much bigger part of benefit plans in 2022 and beyond, especially as employees continue to work from home and work more flexibly.’’

“Given the major upheaval we have all experienced and the ongoing pressure on employers, now is a real opportunity for law firms to rethink their approach to benefits and wellbeing. Employee health and wellbeing must be central to any benefits strategy, so firms can support existing staff, as well as attract talent in a competitive market.”

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