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Wellbeing

Every Issue

Cite as: July 2015 89 (7) LIJ, p.101

The legal profession needs to commit to and build mentally healthy workplaces.

Heads up on wellbeing at work

I congratulate the LIJ on introducing a wellbeing section. May it long continue and thrive.

May it challenge leaders of law firms, employees and single practice lawyers to give genuine consideration to their workplace environment and the welfare of those who work within.

May the contributors to this section challenge those who read it to think seriously about their physical and mental condition.

As readers know, the levels of stress and anxiety in the legal profession is unacceptably high, as is the suicide rate.

It is the competitive nature of the job, the six-minute charging, the expectations that are placed on young lawyers by their seniors, and the expectation individuals place on themselves.

In the main, an individual’s condition is their own responsibility – to eat well, exercise and balance one’s life between work, family and pleasure. Importantly, to retire each night physically and mentally tired. This will most likely contribute to a good night’s sleep, and the opportunity to wake the next morning fresh to face the day.

But, given we spend most of our waking hours at work, the environment at work is very important. One should look forward to going to work, associating with colleagues and supporting each other.

So is your workplace a mentally healthy one? Have your managers and leaders asked how everyone feels about the work environment?

As a result of that conversation, might it be that some people might arrive at work less stressed if they started the day at 9.30 or 10 in order to drop the children at school? There’s not much point in a person rushing and worrying about getting to work on time if that then means they arrive stressed.

Does the office encourage activities so staff can enjoy each other’s company and get to know each other better outside the office? Does it encourage discussion on mental health – the signs to look for in oneself or colleagues that might be signs of stress, anxiety or depression?

Do you have a workplace in which people who might not be feeling themselves are able to share that information with a colleague without fear of discrimination?

Beyondblue, in association with the Mentally Healthy Workplace Alliance, has started an Australia-wide drive to have 80 per cent of Australian workplaces signed up to our Heads Up campaign by 2019.

Have a look at the website at www.headsup.org.au to learn how to create a mentally healthy workplace and get a free tailored program for your practice.

It makes sense from a social and economic perspective. A mentally healthy workplace is a more productive workplace with less absenteeism and OHS issues.

They tell me the legal profession and lawyers are pretty smart. But at times I wonder. Your workplaces often contribute to your stress and illnesses, and yet you can remove so many of those stresses by positive, simple education and action.

Look at the Heads Up website today. Sign up to our program. If you want to contact me or any of the staff at beyondblue, please do so by emailing bb@beyondblue.org.au.

For now, be healthy, be happy.

TIPS
Ways to create a positive work culture:

  • Make mental health a priority.
  • Encourage senior staff to speak openly about mental health and make a longterm commitment to mental health in your workplace.
  • Seek regular feedback from employees about what stresses them at work, and what could make the workplace more mentally healthy.
  • Reduce stigma by guest speakers sharing their personal experiences of depression and anxiety with staff.

Jeff Kennett is the founding chair of beyondblue.

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