At Ardent Legal Recruitment, we are continuing our pledge to support better mental health and wellbeing across the legal profession. Recently, we spoke to Karen Senior, HR Manager at Sharpe Pritchard about their approach to mental health. A Legal 500 top tier firm, Sharpe Pritchard specialises in public law and working with public bodies.
What programmes do you have in place to support mental health?
We have a Wellbeing Leadership Group with members from across the business. Members include our Senior Partner, Chief Operating Officer, as well as other partners, trainees and business support. The Group’s purpose is to promote and champion positive mental health within the firm. We felt it was important to have representation from across the firm so that everyone was comfortable approaching someone in the Group.
Within Sharpe Pritchard we have 5 mental health first aiders and a mental health first aid champion. They all sit on the Group and are very active in supporting our colleagues, as well as being able to signpost to other resources.
The Group is key to implementing our Wellbeing Strategy. We are working with two external organisations as part of this strategy. We hold a London Healthy Workplace award, via the programme run by the Mayor of London’s office and we are signatories of the Mindful Business Charter.
Tell us about the employee benefits you offer to support mental health?
In January we launched a new benefit, our wellbeing and health app TicTrac. It provides resources around mental and physical health, meditation, mindfulness and yoga. We launched as we moved into a new lockdown and we really wanted to encourage colleagues to look after their physical and mental wellbeing. Our solution was to set up a challenge – dividing the business into 2 teams and seeing which team could achieve the most steps. When we launched the app, we had around 40% of colleagues using the app and around 35% took part in the challenge which we were really pleased with.
Our aim is to promote and maintain wellbeing and good mental health but we recognise that we also need to provide resources to help those who become unwell or might otherwise need support.
Our Employee Assistance Programme offers 24/7 advice and guidance with free access to counselling. We also have a programme called Smart Health which offers mental health support and prompt access to a virtual GP. This is so helpful for our teams and their families and means they can talk about mental health challenges, but also reduces stressful wait times that people can experience when making a GP appointment.
We launched a new comprehensive private medical insurance scheme in June. This is available to everyone from the first day in the firm and includes face to face, email or phone counselling and mental health peer support services where our people can find local support groups.
To address financial wellbeing which has impacted some of our people during the pandemic, our TicTrac app and Employee Assistance Programme offer advice and guidance on finances and debt management.
Has Sharpe Pritchard changed its approach to mental health and wellbeing this last 18 months?
We’ve always talked about wellbeing, workloads and work life balance. These subjects are a regular part of our employee engagement survey.
However, we are definitely having more conversations about these issues in recent months and they are higher priority. We’ve invested in more training for our line managers, run by Rethink Mental Health, to help them support their teams and we’ve focused on educating and raising the awareness of wellbeing and mental health across the firm by organising a number of mental health awareness training events and online webinars. When we have one to ones with our team members, wellbeing is the first thing we discuss.
The Wellbeing Leadership Group runs regular promotions and activities. We recently marked World Mental Health Day by running a coffee and tea Roulette encouraging everyone to take a break and connect with colleagues. We sent a wellbeing package including a coffee cup to each person and paired people with different colleagues in the business. They met up for coffee and had conversations with people they may not have spoken to before. The initiative was really well received. The Wellbeing Group also ran a wellbeing afternoon in July to include sessions around anxiety, self-care, how to support your mental wellbeing and menopause.
We’ve always been mindful about mental health but now it’s part of our everyday agenda.
How did you address staff concerns during the pandemic?
With everyone working at home, we really wanted to avoid a sense of isolation. So we really increased the amount of engagement within teams. There was a move for much more regular one to ones with team members and frequent team meetings to keep everyone in touch. Social events moved online so we didn’t lose the ability of colleagues to connect.
We also held firm wide update meetings lead by the Senior leaders much more frequently to explain the impact of Covid and how we were performing as a firm. We felt it was important to communicate frequently to reduce any anxieties our people may have been experiencing
And how are you navigating the return to work/hybrid working?
There was a lot of anxiety in this year’s engagement survey around returning to the office. By paying attention to those survey results we have been able to address those concerns and keep everyone informed.
The results showed that most people wanted to come back to some kind of hybrid working arrangement. We did a lot of consultation before introducing a new flexible working policy. This sets an expectation for colleagues to be in the office for a minimum of 20% of their working week. Of course some people are keen to come in more often and that’s fine too. We’ll be reviewing the policy next year to make sure it is working as envisaged. So far, the feedback is very positive. People are enjoying the flexibility and autonomy to decide how and where to get their work done.
What are the next steps in this field at Sharpe Pritchard?
I mentioned that we have recently become signatories of the Mindful Business Charter. Our next step is to work on what that looks like in practice. We will be looking at how we have smarter emails, run smarter meetings, respect rest periods and annual leave, and really thinking about the impact of our actions on colleagues’ day to day experience. This will include things like avoiding sending emails to colleagues out of business hours and ensuring that people have adequate breaks and breaks between meetings Thankfully, generally speaking we don’t have a long hours culture and work life balance is respected in practice, which is very positive. But we can all take steps to be more mindful at work and benefit everyone’s mental health.
Many thanks to Karen Senior at Sharpe Pritchard for her time.