Professional services roles typically comprise long hours, high stress and various other factors that promote presenteeism. According to the Resilience and wellbeing survey report, published by the Junior Lawyers Division in April 2017, 74% of legal professionals believe their employer could do more to combat stress at work.
Liverpool-based MSB Solicitors, which has 110 employees and 13 partners across three offices, is no stranger to this issue.
Part of the challenge lies in the varied working practices of different employees, explains Emma Carey, managing partner at MSB Solicitors. “There are two types of employees in the legal industry – the fee earners who have got the responsibility for case management and producing the legal work, and the staff that support the fee earners. It’s difficult sometimes to draw a balance,” Carey explains.
For example, technology allows fee earners to connect from home and work flexibly, but this does not apply to a receptionist who needs to be present throughout normal business hours.
Nevertheless, MSB Solicitors has made an effort to ensure that it is not responsible for promoting the kinds of pressures that might lead to presenteeism.
For example, employees are able to take emergency holiday instantly, with no questions asked, to allow them to deal with issues that might come up in their or their families’ lives. In addition, the firm is open to flexible hours requests, whether to help with difficult commutes or to accommodate the school run.
The firm also has the facility for individuals to work from home, but Carey notes that there are clear rules when it comes to using this as a method of working while unwell.
“We don’t allow [employees] to work from home while they are sick, because that’s not fair on others who aren’t connected from home and because if people are sick they are sick, and they need to be at home.”
The firm’s commitment to wellbeing and reducing presenteeism stretches beyond flexible working, holidays and sick leave, however. Around September 2017, MSB Solicitors signed up with Health@Work, to help in the effort to promote and support staff wellbeing.
“Health@Work have made us think about how we treat our staff and the importance of a healthy workforce that feels valued, which can only increase productivity and strengthen any business,” says Carey.
To this end, the firm has offered meditation sessions within working hours and 12 months ago, the business also committed to paying for any employee’s subscription to the community-based stop smoking service FagEnds.
Recognising that wellbeing goes beyond physical health, all of MSB Solicitors’ managers have undergone mental health training, which took place six months ago over two sessions, covering 16 members of staff. This training helps them to spot signs of stress and anxiety in their team members.
“Mental health issues are equal to physical health issues, and if people do have a problem [there should be] no embarrassment, [they] need to speak to us,” says Carey. “In the same way that we will all be physically ill, we will all [face mental health issues] at some point because that’s life. In that time, we all just need a bit of help or support.”