Law firms can be stressful places to work. As Liz Bryne, head of learning and development at law firm Blake Morgan, says: “I’d done quite a lot of work with graduates coming out of law school and starting their careers. I watched quite a few of them grapple with that transition, and the weight of expectation that they have for themselves and that other people have for them. I have also seen the other end of the scale, where incredibly successful people have driven themselves so hard that they have burnt out over time and the qualities that were previously drivers of good behaviour have become something that has derailed them.”
When Bryne’s colleague, HR officer Kathryn Seaward, attended a networking event, she got talking to a fellow professional who had recently been through mental health first aid training.
“She was telling me about an employee relations issue, which is fairly standard in HR,” says Seaward. “The member of staff had been signed off sick and just in the way the person was behaving, they recognised that they were having a mental breakdown and managed to get her the appropriate help. I realised it was a huge gap for us, and something I had never thought about. I read about it and really wanted to do it.”
Blake Morgan now has a mental health first aider in every region in which it operates. They are signposted in the same way as physical first aiders. “My role is HR, so people will naturally want to speak to me about these sorts of issues,” adds Seaward. “I felt like I wanted that training to say, ‘yes I am doing this the right way’, signposting appropriately and doing the right thing to help that person.”
Seaward and Bryne urge other employers to investigate what training they can access for free. “A key change for us has been access to mental health awareness certificates, which is through one of our local colleges,” says Byrne. “There are a number of certificates people can study remotely which are completely free to the business, it’s a few hours of somebody’s time a week.”
Making sure staff are aware of what is already on offer is also key, for example, an employee assistance programme (EAP), which employees might not necessarily know are there, says Seaward.
In addition, Blake Morgan offers access to online resources, including information on how to spot signs of stress in co-workers and stress management, and signposts mental health resources both locally and nationally. It has also held training sessions in some areas that are popular online, such as personal resilience.
The law firm also offers lunchtime yoga sessions and access to mindfulness resources, such as Be Mindful online courses.
“It is trying to find lots of different solutions that work for different people,” says Bryne. “Part of the success of what we’ve done is we have just started to make it seem like it’s an everyday conversation. I think sometimes the fear of having the conversation is more daunting than having the conversation itself.”