Positive culture impacts help-seeking behaviour in law

The survey revealed that a positive workplace culture is among the most important factors influencing help-seeking behaviour

Positive culture impacts help-seeking behaviour in law

The majority of employees at small and medium-sized law firms feel that their mental health and wellbeing is important to their firm and that there is an open-door policy which enables them to seek help.

That’s according to new research by Meritas New Zealand and Austalia which included opinions from 200 employees at firms, from partners through to non-legal professionals.

Respondents from the survey found that their mental health and wellbeing is important to their firm and that there is an open door policy which enables them to seek help. 

The survey also revealed that a positive workplace culture is among the most important factors influencing help-seeking behaviour.

The survey provides a first-ever snapshot of wellbeing in small and medium-sized law firms, the largest category of employers in the legal sector in Australia and New Zealand.

Respondents were asked questions about their work life, experiences with depression and anxiety, barriers to help-seeking behaviour and attitudes towards and experiences with their employer’s mental health assistance program.

It found that 63% of respondents said they had experienced depression or they knew someone close to them in the workplace who had. Moreover, 85% of respondents said they had experienced anxiety or they knew someone close to them in the workplace who had.

The survey revealed a high prevalence of depression and anxiety at small and medium-sized law firms.

The survey also revealed that a positive workplace culture is among the most important factors influencing help-seeking behaviour.

A majority of respondents felt the issue of well-being was important to their employer and that there was an “open door” policy or someone they could talk to at their workplace about personal and professional issues which affected their performance.

Indeed, 83% of respondents said well-being was an important issue at their firm.

READ MORE: Mental health in the workplace

Additionally, 45% said they felt there was an open door policy at work or they could talk to someone at their workplace about personal and professional issues which affected their performance

When it comes to work life, most respondents said they found the demands of their work generally manageable.

Managing Partner of Swaab and Chair of Meritas Australia and New Zealand Regional Committee Mary Digiglio said law firms had done much to build a more resilient workforce in the past 10 years.

However, there was still a lot more work to be done to boost awareness and overcome barriers to help-seeking behaviour.

“Stigma and a fear of reaching out remains a critical barrier that hinders many people from seeking help,” said Digiglio.

“We each need to take responsibility to look out for each other and continue to nurture a supportive and open culture to reduce the prevalence of mental illness in the legal profession.”

READ MORE: Mental health issues impact us all

Managing Partner of New Zealand-based Martelli McKegg Lawyers, Melissa Higham said the tendency of legal professionals towards perfectionism and a high-achiever mentality as well as the stress of everyday work-life including demanding workloads and high client expectations were factors that could put legal professionals at a greater risk of mental illness.

“We need to ensure that staff have adequate education and training about risk factors and how to identify if someone is experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety,” Higham said.

The wellness survey was an important resource that could assist all small and medium- sized law firms to better direct their efforts to support the mental health and well-being of staff, Higham added.

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