A survey of companies and staff has shown that many legal firms are failing to support the mental health and wellbeing of their employees.
Despite a strong demand for help with the cost-of-living crisis and stress and anxiety, employers saw supporting staff morale as low on their list of priorities, according to the YouGov poll.
Where support was offered, in the form of wellbeing advice and counselling, take-up was low, suggesting it did not always meet the needs of staff, the findings reveal.
The online poll of 3000 British employers and employees – commissioned by welltech company Frog Systems and conducted last December – showed that 59% of legal firm staff required support for stress and anxiety, while 44% said they needed help to get through the cost-of-living crisis.
In addition, 51% said they would benefit from support from their employer to help cope with grief and loss.
However, only 37% of the legal firms surveyed said they regarded improving staff morale or encouraging healthier lifestyles as their responsibility, according to the poll. They listed attracting and retaining talent and improving productivity as their main priorities.
The survey also highlighted that, while outlay on support for staff mental health and wellness was higher than in other sectors, only 23% of employers in the legal and professional services sectors more generally spent nothing at all, and 35% spent £100 or less, per-employee-per-year.
When asked who they would go to for help, only 2% of legal staff said they felt confident about going to their boss or a work colleague if they had a problem in their personal life or with their finances. More people said they would search the Internet before going to their line manager with an issue.
Those working with law firms and their staff to address employee wellbeing said the findings demonstrated an urgent need to address a growing problem.
Elizabeth Rimmer, CEO of LawCare – a mental wellbeing charity for the legal profession – said: “Despite the range of wellbeing supports on offer in law firms, it is telling that in this poll only 2% of legal professionals would feel confident in talking about their wellbeing with colleagues.
“EAP programmes, educational seminars, mindfulness, and gym sessions don’t create a working environment that is psychologically safe, where people feel valued and able to talk with colleagues about concerns. It is time to widen the approach to wellbeing from a focus on individuals to looking at how organisations foster a culture that supports the mental wellbeing of their people, and this responsibility lies in the boardroom.”
Henrietta Jowitt, an advisor to the Mind Forward Alliance and a former CBI deputy director general, said: “Most leaders are focussed on attracting and retaining talent and improving productivity, and yet a third of them spend nothing on employee wellbeing. They need to make this connection.
“Wellbeing is an output – it is the result of a whole range of inputs that support your people. It is not a package, off the shelf. If you don’t understand your colleagues’ needs and look after their wellbeing, so that they feel they are safe, belong and are supported in a way that works for them, they will neither stay nor produce their best work.”
Psychologist Peter Abrahamsen, who works with stressed lawyers, said: “My typical lawyer client is at crisis point from excessive and sustained pressure at work directly affecting their mental and physical health. They are disillusioned by their profession and struggle with the effects on their home life which is often falling apart.”
Compared with staff in some other sectors, those working in the legal sector and professional services appeared to receive similar benefits focused on traditional offerings such as Employee Assistance Programmes, life insurance, private medical care and perks and discounts, however only around one in four used them if at all.
Phil Worms, CEO of Frog Systems, said the report showed a gulf in trust in the workplace around wellbeing support for employees.
“Whilst many employers seem to understand the emotional and physical challenges being faced by their employees, they don’t appear to be able to provide the right wellbeing tools and information to support them.
“Solutions which are reactive, standalone, ‘tick box,’ not trusted, or do not provide sufficient insight will not enable the deployment of early intervention and support strategies.
“By listening to, and understanding what employees need, companies can start to build stronger, more empathetic, and productive work environments. Access to wellbeing support should not be a lottery or a privilege.”