At Ardent Legal Recruitment, we are continuing our pledge to support better mental health and wellbeing across the legal profession. Recently, we had the pleasure to speak to two senior HR professionals at Travers Smith about their approach to mental health.
Chief People Officer Moira Slape joined Travers Smith in November 2015, and Carly Hubbard is HR Director, joining in March 2016. In developing a business culture based on trust, support and excellence they have worked to ensure mental health and wellbeing is everyone’s responsibility.
What programs do you have in place at Travers Smith to support mental health?
Carly: We have our mental health first aid aware group, a team of dedicated and trained colleagues who have volunteered to support people in the business. We started with a small group about 3 years ago and now have around 90 people, from our workforce of approximately 800.
In addition our Employee Assistance Programme is available 24/7. If someone finds themselves needing support in the middle of the night, they can access that support via the helpline. This links to our private medical provider if further support is needed. A market leading benefit we provide is access to counselling through the Professional Career Partnership. Everyone has access to this service and can contact PCP directly and confidentially. We also have a virtual GP service which can fast track any support we need.
We are also in the process of embedding the Mindful Business Charter across the firm. This is a practical framework that encourages us to be more thoughtful about the impact we have on each other.
How are you changing the conversation around mental health at Travers Smith?
Moira: Six years ago when I joined the business there was a stigma around mental health. I strongly believe that as HR professionals we play a crucial role in shaping culture. So by being very thoughtful and open about it, and confident as a team that this is the right thing to do, we have created a safe space to talk about mental health.
Conversations about mental health are now very much led from the top of the business. We have a big focus on Mental Health Awareness week and the most popular events are the panels where colleagues, including partners, sharing their own stories and vulnerabilities.
Carly: This is a very culture led firm, so we have been able to leverage the open, nurturing and supportive environment. As a result, people want to stay with the business.
What did you put in place to support the mental health and wellbeing of colleagues this last year?
Carly: We had to build frameworks to support colleagues and at a fast pace to respond to the changing landscape. We were able to respond very quickly to the impact of lockdown, which is a huge benefit of being the size of organisation we are. To help colleagues caring for children at home and other family responsibilities, we introduced partially paid leave and temporary flexible working arrangements. We know this helped reduce the levels of stress many colleagues were feeling at that time. We encouraged people to have the conversation they needed to get the right sort of support.
Moira: In January 2021, we were concerned about our partners and asked what we could do more to help and support them. What did our partners need to continue to lead their teams, manage them in a different way and look after their clients? We encouraged partners to share their experiences and have open conversations about how their experiences during the pandemic.
What is your opinion on resilience, how does that help the conversation?
Moira: For me it can be an unhelpful word. We can say someone is lacking resilience when they are just tired. So it’s a word that we try to avoid in our well-being programmes. We recognise that different people have different ways of coping. It can be dangerous to only measure their external responses.
Do you think mental health has been creeping up as a topic of conversation over the past five years? Or has it only been because of the pandemic that people are really talking about it now?
Moira: Partners would have struggled to talk about mental health 6 years ago. Over that time we’ve been able to coach line managers to have those conversations, and know when they need to access additional help. The business has grown considerably – from 400/500 to nearly 800 people. We have a professional obligation to upskill and educate on this subject.
Carly: We’ve built an infrastructure and a process to provide the support. People feel they can go to their line manager with a problem and that person would know what to do.
What are the next steps for mental health awareness at Travers Smith?
Carly: We want to do more of the same work, facilitating the conversation between line managers and teams. We can bring in the right resources to do that. In the context of the new world of hybrid working there will no doubt be changes to the ways we support people.
Our focus for the next 6 months is around how can we get people back to the office. Colleagues will have understandable anxieties around that. We are introducing our agile working protocol which will require people to be present in the office for 50% over a fortnight.
Moira: I think we have found the right balance between giving people the chance to work at home but also provide the contact and conversations that we all gain in the office environment. I hope colleagues will feel energised to be back in the office.
Many thanks to Moira and Carly at Travers Smith for their time.