Mind Over Matters: Acuity’s Wellbeing Support
At Acuity Law, we reflect on the pressures of legal life, and the importance of wellbeing support.
Last week was Well-Being Week in Law, but it’s never a bad time to talk about supporting those who work in the law to balance the pressures of work and life.
“In this service industry, it’s not always a nine-to-five job and there may be times where the nature of the job requires flexibility; working into the evening and sometimes weekends, to meet client needs and deadlines,” says Acuity Law associate Madeleine Chapman James.
Undoubtedly, the Law is a high-pressure sector, with a corresponding impact on the wellbeing of its professionals. This is borne out in the stats: recent research conducted by Legatics and YouGov found that nine in ten lawyers have suffered from stress or burnout.
The blurring of work and home life are evident across professional skillsets – and across society, particularly post-pandemic. When your smartphone is equipped to pick up emails day and night, it can take a superhuman effort not to at least look.
So what can we, as Acuity, do when societal pressures pile on to an already heavy workload?
“There is no one-size-fits-all for improving mental health and wellbeing and we are constantly adapting as a committee to ensure that wellbeing is firmly on the agenda and embedded into the culture of the firm”
At Acuity, we have a Wellbeing Committee, of which Madeleine is Chair. It’s a crucial part of drawing that line between work and rest, and the offering is both intellectual and physical: activities include yoga, pilates, a step challenge, a book club and meditation sessions (run by a partner who is also a qualified life coach), as well as information sharing. The intranet has a portal for wellbeing resources and the Committee works across all Acuity offices, with initiatives rolled out in Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, Liverpool, London and Swansea.
“Our goal for the committee is to promote wellbeing and we recognise that how that is achieved looks different for everyone,” Madeleine explains.
“For some, sharing resources and details of organisations that can offer tools and support that can help with mental health is enough. To that end, we ensure that important days in the diary, such as the World Suicide Prevention Day, are highlighted to staff and crucially, information around resources for support in these areas are shared. For others, offering physical activities and opportunities to engage in events that can improve wellbeing is welcomed.”
She adds: “There is no one-size-fits-all for improving mental health and wellbeing and we are constantly adapting as a committee to ensure that wellbeing is firmly on the agenda and embedded into the culture of the firm.”
Often, that’s about finding joy, and sometimes catharsis, in everyday life. Last week, for example, the Acuity workforce was munching on the yields of a bake sale, arranged to inspire our creativity – and raise money for the Alzheimer’s Society.
But it’s also about recognising that there are times when we all feel at less than our full health. Somewhat unusually, Acuity has four trained Mental Health First-Aiders – volunteers who undertook a week-long training to become certified supporters of employees who feel they are struggling with their mental health.
This practice is gaining in popularity across businesses, and a Bill to make mental health first-aid a part of first-aid training is awaiting a second reading in Parliament.
At Acuity, we embraced this role three years ago.
“It’s for anyone experiencing anything or suffering with anything mental health-related. Staff can reach out to us on a confidential basis as someone to talk to. We have the training and know-how to deal with the situation and have the tools to effectively offer support and an appropriate course of action,” she explains.
“Addressing staff wellbeing head-on through the committee’s initiatives and our Mental Health First-Aiders helps to achieve a culture within Acuity that focuses on the psychological and physical wellbeing of staff”
The training provided insight about types of mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, as well as mental health crises such as suicidal thoughts, panic attacks and self-injury. It equipped our Mental Health First-Aid team, which includes two partners, an associate and a Chief Financial Officer, with understanding of first-aid strategies, and the confidence to help.
“There’s always the option to reach out to someone, across all levels,” says Madeleine.
Measures such as these underscore the fact that, at Acuity, mental health is not only an individual responsibility, but a firm one. It’s about fostering an environment where people are able to admit vulnerabilities – and then strive for balance.
But at Acuity, we aim to prioritise wellbeing, not only through the Committee, but through working practices.
“In the corporate healthcare team, we have weekly team meetings, and the corporate team have biweekly meetings. These meetings allow staff to advise of their capacity and how their workload is looking and serve as an opportunity to express concerns and talk openly with your team. With wellbeing an item we’d like to see high on the agenda this year and going forward, it is important for team leaders to check in with their team. A simple, ‘how are you doing?’ can go a long way and opens up the dialogue for staff to share how they’re coping with stresses and the like,” says Madeleine.
The Committee itself is a truly meaningful part of getting that conversation going – humanising people beyond their productivity, for both managers and team members. For Madeleine, it’s hugely important to reinforce the message that support is there and is both free… and judgement-free.
“There can be stigma attached to mental health and wellbeing and that is something that we hope is being reduced as people are educated on the topic. Addressing staff wellbeing head-on through the committee’s initiatives and our Mental Health First-Aiders helps to achieve a culture within Acuity that focuses on the psychological and physical wellbeing of staff, which in turn boosts the morale and community feel across the firm,” Madie explains.
“The first step in addressing mental health and wellbeing is often the hardest. For us, ensuring we are sharing the right resources and giving staff access to opportunities to alleviate stress and improve wellbeing, is the first step – in the right direction.”
At Acuity we also put our clients’ wellbeing first, and responding to their feedback was a key driver for our Client Portal relaunch earlier this year. Don’t be squeezed by the 9-5: take charge of your own time, and access detail on your matters and spend when it suits you.