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Law firms join World Mental Health Day awareness raising efforts

10 October 2018

Leading solicitors' firms have joined other large employers in campaigns to raise awareness of employee issues to mark World Mental Health Day today (10 October).

Eight large firms and three of the biggest banks have formed an alliance to change avoidable working practices that can cause mental health and wellbeing issues for employees. Meanwhile a group of Scottish employers have teamed up with the See Me national programme to end mental health discrimination.

The Mindful Business Charter, developed by Barclays alongside law firms Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard, is the first time banks and their legal services providers have come together to reach a shared agenda for supporting mental health and wellbeing. The charter has also been signed by Lloyds Banking Group and NatWest, along with law firms Ashurst, Baker McKenzie, Clifford Chance, Eversheds Sutherland, Hogan Lovells and Simmons & Simmons.

All the signatories have committed to a set of principles centred on improved communication, respect for rest periods and considerate delegation of tasks. Performance against these principles will be monitored as part of relationship review meetings.

In signing, the organisations are pledging to promote a culture of openness about mental wellbeing, ensure responsible business is included as an area of assessment during significant procurement processes, and drive forward the actions and necessary change in support of the principles of the Charter.

Richard Foley, senior partner of Pinsent Masons, which employs more than 500 staff in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen, commented: "Professional advisers are often in a position of privilege, so it is easy to underestimate or overlook the impact of the work they do on their wellbeing. Mental health issues impact people at all levels and in all sectors. Changing working practices have increased those pressures significantly. It is not good enough to just accept that as the price we have to pay. We have a responsibility to make changes."

The charter has the support of mental health charity Mind, the Law Society of England & Wales, LawCare and the Solicitors Regulatory Authority.

Eight month process

In Scotland, Burness Paull along with ScotRail, Apex Hotels and engineering company Babcock are working with the See Me programme, to highlight the potential impact of mental health stigma and discrimination in work and ensure staff feel supported when they are struggling.

The organisations, which employ more than 8,000 people between them, are working with the programme on a range of areas, including reducing absenteeism and presenteeism relating to mental health, and promoting their role as responsible, inclusive and caring employers.

All four have signed up to a eight month process with See Me, to analyse their policies and practices in relation to mental health, to challenge discrimination and improve the working lives of employees with mental health problems.

A 2015 survey of Scottish workers by See Me found that 48% of people think that someone in their work with a mental health problem would be unlikely to disclose for fear of losing their job; and 55% think they would be unlikely to disclose for fear of being moved to another post or passed over for promotion.

Tamar Tammes, managing partner at Burness Paull, said: "We are delighted that See Me has invited Burness Paull and other major employers in Scotland to help highlight the potential impact of mental health stigma and discrimination in the workplace. We are proud to play our part in making that happen. 

"We are committed to helping and supporting everyone in the firm to improve their working lives and to ensuring staff feel supported when they’re struggling. That is why we’re very much looking forward to working with See Me, sharing our experiences and learning from the other employers involved."

Alison Atack, President of the Law Society of Scotland, added: "I’m very pleased to see that one of our law firms is among the group of leading employers taking part in the See Me programme.

"Many solicitors are drawn to the intellectual challenge and thrive on the high pressure that a legal career entails, but with this high pressure can come stress. We know that one in five solicitors experience a mental health issue at some stage in their career, so it’s crucial that we all work to remove any stigma and discrimination and ensure that people can find help when they need it."

In May this year the Society launched Lawscot Wellbeing as a dedicated online resource that provides help and guidance for members and employers.

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