It is fair to say that during periods of uncertainty and crisis, some people appear to cope without difficultly, while others struggle. The word ‘appear’ is relevant here. Some people are highly adept at looking like they are coping, while beneath the surface they are riddled with anxiety and worry about the economy, their jobs, their family, or their health. For employers, this poses a challenge given the duty of care they owe to their employees’ physical and mental health under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.
Unfortunately, law firms across the UK have had to make tough decisions in response to COVID-19, including furloughing, redundancies, and restructuring operations. There is now a secondary risk that staff under considerable pressure both at work and at home, may make dishonest acts or negligent mistakes, leading to reputational damage and potential claims for their employers; employee stress is proven to cause workplace accidents and costly mistakes. So, how can law firms, given the unprecedented nature of the uncertainty facing their workers, support their mental health and also protect their organisation from errors and potential resultant claims arising from workplace stress?
Provide mental health support resources for your team
While not all members of your team will make use of the mental health resources you provide, these can be extremely valuable. These might include:
- Providing access to an Employee assistance programme (EAP) – such programmes are provided by external providers and enable employees to call in confidence to express their worries and seek help.
- Subscribing to online mental health apps and make these available to your employees – e.g. yoga, meditation, relaxation, and happiness programmes. Apps such as Calm and Headspace provide great benefits and can be used at any time.
- Reminding your teams that you are personally available to talk if they have any problems.
- Virtual coffee & cake group chats – it is all too easy to feel isolated while working from home but by putting in place regular opportunities for small teams to get together in a virtual setting and to chat about non-work matters, this can help your team to feel a sense of connection.
Simply reminding people that help and support are available within your law firm will go a long way to providing reassurance and a sense of positivity. Remember, not all employees will ask for help, or even seek it if it is available, hence it is important that you take the time to speak to people individually to see how they are doing. This may flag issues which you were not previously aware of and allow you to encourage them to seek support.
Flexible working is now more important than ever
Team members who are working full-time while supporting their children with home-schooling, or caring for an ill family member have so much to juggle. Not everyone has support or can share the load with others, therefore, the more you can do to allow flexibility of work routines, the better . While some employees are not always online as others may be, what matters is whether they can complete their work in a competent and timely manner. This might mean they work early in the morning and in the early evening as they fit in their other essential commitments. The key here is to maintain an ongoing dialogue with your team members to ensure they are coping, keeping on track, and have the support they need.
Hampers are not just for Christmas
Consider sending care packages or hampers to your remote team members. Receiving a gift of flowers and/or a hamper with goodies can help your valued legal and administrative team members feel valued and cared for. The options for a care package are endless. You might send some luxury food and drink items, toys for children, treats for pets, vouchers for online services, plants and flowers, books, games, DVD’s, or gadgets –anything is possible. By sending a well-considered and tailored gift box to your team, you are not just reaching out to the individual, but also their family; a gesture which will be hugely appreciated.
It is natural for staff who are used to working in a tight-knit team in an office to feel isolated and vulnerable, especially given the level of uncertainty and personal upheaval we are all experiencing. Make no mistake, your law firm will be shaped and judged by how you respond to the ongoing pandemic and lockdown. Employees who have been cared for and nurtured through this period of uncertainty will forever appreciate your efforts and, in turn, will help your firm attract new clients through their energy, optimism, and commitment to your organisation.
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