Why the legal sector must tackle mental health
The World Health Organisation suggests that one in four people in the world will be affected by mental health or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. An estimated 268 million people worldwide suffer from depression and a Lancet Commissioned report into mental health said mental disorders are on the rise in every country globally.
Mental health is a growing issue for the legal sector. A solicitors work can be defined by long hours, financial targets and high pressure and according to research, this is having a negative impact on their mental health.
Stress is a big factor behind rising mental health problems. A recent survey by UK insurance firm, Protectivity, found that solicitors are the second most stressed professionals in the country – with 63% in the legal industry reporting stress on a daily basis.
Equally, the UK’s Law Society survey found that 95% of solicitors have some negative stress in their jobs, and 17% say that this is extreme. It reports that solicitors often feel overloaded with work, unappreciated, isolated, and unsupported; many complain of unattainable targets, poor pay and long hours.
While many firms say they have programmes in place that are geared towards improving the wellbeing of staff, 66% of solicitors say they would be concerned about reporting feelings of stress to their employer because of the stigma involved. Nobody wishes to be viewed as a weak link in the chain of a professional practice.
Whilst stress is an inevitable part of being a solicitor, when it becomes excessive, it can be damaging to individuals and to firms, leading to mental and physical sickness, a lack of morale or a desire to take on additional responsibility.
If solicitor are suffering from poor mental health, they won’t be performing at their peak, their focus is likely to be affected and this can lead to mistakes in their work. Mistakes can have drastic consequences. If a solicitor has made an error which has resulted in financial loss to a client, there is a risk this could lead to a negligence claim, which every firm will want to avoid. To mitigate such risks, firms need to ensure they have adequate Professional Indemnity Insurance to cover and protect their solicitors against such claims.
What can be done to tackle mental health in the workplace?
Mental health problems can have other major consequences. It is estimated, that mental health issues will cost the global economy $16 trillion by 2030 with an estimated 12 billion working days being lost due to mental illness every year. Also, mental health is now the leading cause of absenteeism in the UK. But it is not just the cost of absence that will impact law firms, it is the very real risks of negligence claims if mistakes are made.
How are companies responding?
We are starting to see many firms take a more proactive approach to managing mental health - providing access to services such as counselling, mental health first aiders and employee assistance programmes (EAPs), to support individuals with mental health issues. They are also looking at areas that impact mental health such as financial wellbeing, diet, alcohol intake and sleep and developing programmes to address these specific issues. Several firms are taking the lead in this area. To mark World Mental Health Day last year, Dechert, Linklaters and Fried Frank are among firms promoting new mental health initiatives.
There is also a legal profession wellbeing taskforce, founded in 2016 and initiated by the Law Society in partnership with other legal organisations to promote mental health best practice. Its aim is to create a culture of good mental health for City workers, and to share best practices and increase mental health understanding. The taskforce involves many senior workers across a selection of professions, it promotes a positive culture, cultivating change from the top. Our Employee Wellbeing Research 2018 also highlighted the importance of mental health strategies being driven by the Board to help break the taboo.
For barristers in the UK there is also Wellbeing at the bar – a programme that aims to provide barristers and chambers’ personnel with the information and skills they need in order to stay well. The site highlights that one in three barristers find it difficult to control or stop worrying.
Where do companies begin?
One easy solution for law firms is to make use of new technology developed specifically for companies to tackle mental health in the workplace. We’ve recently launched Havensrock Thrive, a unique mental health app, which is a cost-effective way for employers to help their employees monitor their mental health daily, both discreetly and confidentially.
Havensrock Thrive combines technology with the ‘human touch’ and is the only mental health app on the market that is approved by the National Health Service (NHS).
The app helps employees to prevent and manage stress, anxiety and other common mental health conditions and offers tools and techniques that can be accessed 24/7 and provides access to confidential and dedicated practical advice and emotional support.
Employees who need additional support also have immediate access to one-on-one support from specialist RedArc mental health nurses, who offer long-term support to help employees recover as quickly as possible and can also refer them to other services, if appropriate.
There are many solutions law firms can adopt to protect the mental wellbeing of their staff, and in doing so, also protect the wellbeing of the firm itself.
Havensrock Thrive is provided by Thrive and RedArc. The Thrive App is not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.
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