Taking wellbeing seriously
What it is like to work for a firm that supports wellbeing? A solicitor tells of her experience in a practice whose senior colleagues she regards as good role models
In the five years I have worked for Balfour+Manson I have never considered the requirement of a wellbeing policy, as the firm’s general ethos and atmosphere has always inherently supported the wellbeing of its staff. I am fortunate to have never knowingly suffered from a mental illness, but friends and colleagues would certainly say that I am, at times, prone to worry and stress as a result of work.
Perhaps because of the area in which I specialise (private client), I have worked for partners who are, in different ways, “people” persons and who have been aware of the general wellbeing of their staff. I have been told by a partner that they thought I was stressed and, crucially, not only did they express concern but they asked me what they could do to help, before doing whatever was necessary from their perspective to implement what I had suggested. I am not sure that it would have been as effective a solution if I hadn't been allowed to feel like part of the solution (even if in reality they knew what needed to be done and what they were going to do!).
Senior colleagues have also been good role models in openly saying when they are struggling and talking about the issues they are experiencing. As a junior solicitor that was very important for me to witness at an early stage in my career.
Similarly, when unexpected events, such as members of the department leaving, have led to sudden increases in workloads, the partners in charge have made every effort to keep “checking in” with the department, provided us with the context and kept us informed of the efforts that they were making to resolve the situation. This helped to provide us with a sense of control and of a team working together, both of which helped to reduce the stress.
More generally, the partners and senior fee earners at the firm appear to be advocates of getting the work done within the traditional business hours and maintaining healthy social lives, with the vast majority of partners having left the office by 6.30 every evening. This helps to set the tone for more junior members of staff. Of course, that is not to say that just because a member of staff is not in the building they are not working, but it does help to engender the right attitude. Flexible and remote working allow staff to manage other commitments in their lives and minimise additional stress caused by, for example, commuting at particularly busy times of the day.
Colleagues who, for example, have suffered a bereavement or needed time to undergo medical treatment have been offered the practical and, when appropriate, emotional support they needed to be able to carry on working from home or return to work when they felt ready. Sabbaticals have also been supported, reinforcing a sense that staff are valued by the firm.
No less important, the firm hosts boardroom drinks at the end of every month to which all staff are invited. This gives new staff the opportunity to get to know one another professionally and socially, and it fosters a sense of belonging. Importantly, these events are well attended by partners, fee earners and support staff. On occasion partners have brought their dogs into the firm, which can also contribute to the wellbeing of staff.
To conclude, I am conscious I have been fortunate to work for a firm where managers tend intuitively to look after their staff, and that may not always be the case. I am therefore an advocate of more formal policies and training designed to support the wellbeing of solicitors working in Scotland. This is to the benefit not only of the employee but also the firm, the evidence being that content, motivated members of staff are more likely to contribute positively to the business and ultimately be more productive.
Elizabeth Sparks is an associate employed by Balfour+Manson’s Private Client department