It wasn’t all that long ago when firm perks were limited to fresh batches of Starbucks coffee in the break room and 2-weeks of paid vacation. And hey, if you were really lucky, maybe your firm threw in a company-wide party every winter or a couple months of early dismissal “Summer Friday’s” during the warmer months. As wonderful as these benefits may seem on paper, they simply aren’t enough to curtail the stresses and burnout that come hand in hand with this profession.
According to a recent study conducted by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a whopping 20.6% of attorneys demonstrate signs of problematic drinking use and 19-28% experience significant anxiety and depression. It’s no wonder really, particularly in ‘Big Law’ firms where billable hour requirements and evenings spent working well past 1:00 a.m. reign supreme.
Thankfully, we are on the cusp of a change. Perhaps it has something to do with these shocking statistics or maybe it’s as simple as the advent of the Internet, but it finally seems as though the legal profession is stepping into the 21st century and acknowledging what power houses like Google and Facebook have known for a long time: corporate wellness matters.
Why has this change taken so long? In my humble opinion, it has a little something to do with the types of folks the legal profession attracts. We tend to be stubborn, steadfast and, by the very nature of our jobs, argumentative. Combined with the rich history of the law itself (and our desire to still file everything on paper and by certified mail) and it’s no wonder the legal profession has been lagging behind other industries for the better part of the last 30 years.
Emphasizing Wellness to Shift Corporate Culture
Moving towards a culture that encourages wellness, on a mental and physical level, is so much more than sponsoring a few yoga classes or a corporate retreat…it’s about shifting the very mindset we have clung to so earnestly in the legal profession. By encouraging wellness initiatives for all lawyers - from junior associates to name partners – we are simultaneously encouraging a culture of acceptance and inclusion.
By refusing to turn a blind eye to the mental health and substance abuse problems that are so prevalent in the legal industry, we are accepting responsibility for creating a culture that promotes unhealthy coping strategies and burnout. By allowing staff attorneys to work remotely as needed, we are encouraging a healthy balance between work life and family life. And by providing all employees with the tools they need to live a life founded in wellness, we are increasing overall productivity and retention.
What Law Firms & Legal Professionals Can Do to Promote Corporate Wellness
Want to encourage corporate wellness in your law firm? Whether you are an HR professional or a managing partner, there are several easy programs you can implement right away to encourage a healthier (and happier!) climate in your firm:
Sponsor Weekly Mindfulness Classes
This has to be one of the easiest ways to promote corporate wellness in your firm: sponsor a yoga or meditation class. Whether it happens in the break room every Thursday evening or simply once per month, your employees will appreciate the mental break from logging billable hours and staring at their computer screens. Looking for a teacher? Yoga Alliance has an inclusive directory of certified, registered teachers in just about every city you can imagine!
Consider Revising Your Firm’s Remote Policy
I hate to spoil the fun for old school partners all across the country, but it’s 2018. And in 2018, 99% of the work we do can be completed from anywhere with a decent WiFi connection. If you don’t have a remote policy yet, create one. If you have one but it only applies to of counsel employees or folks on maternity or paternity leave, update it. If you don’t, I can assure you that your employees will have no trouble finding another firm that offers this modern convenience.
Swap Out Tired, Old Furniture
If you’ve ever sat at one of those gorgeous-yet-horribly-uncomfortable mahogany desks for hours on end, then you know how important ergonomics are to work life happiness. Offer employees standing desks, bike desks, and even lounge chairs with tables for alternative work spaces!
Encourage Employees to Seek Resources When Needed
Most importantly, advertise mental health and substance abuse resources to all of your employees. Put a sign in the kitchen. Send an annual email. Designate a “safe space group” or a partner your employees can go to when the workload gets too tough. However you do it, do it now. The lives of your employees and the longevity of this profession depend on it.
Need help? Please visit the American Bar Association’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs to find local resources today.