This case study may be useful if you are looking for examples of increasing awareness of wellbeing, developing resilience training schemes and/or promoting wellbeing initiatives.
Exchange Chambers recognises the need to support members’ wellbeing and already offer a wide range of social, charitable and physical activities designed to engender a close and supportive environment in chambers – including links across different cities. They are now formalising their policies and practices and, on the back of a survey, laying the foundations for a more strategic approach.
Exchange Chambers has experienced rapid growth in the past few years, with premises in Liverpool, Leeds and Manchester. They currently have 171 members who practise in all major areas of law, who often move in very different spheres, and travel to Courts all over the country.
Increased digitalisation, tighter court deadlines and business development commitments have also made it increasingly difficult for members to balance work and personal life/family commitments.
What was the business (other case) for action?
Exchange Chambers recognises the need to promote a positive and supportive community for both barristers and staff, and to encourage cohesiveness.
While they already engage in a wide range of social activities and have initiatives in place to provide guidance and support, they wanted to focus on preserving and developing their supportive environment, placing wellbeing at the heart of everything they do.
Exchange Chambers has a reputation for being a good employer; long service and high staff retention rate are testimony to this. They consider it very important to support members and staff suffering from stress and long-term illness. This level of support is something that they are proud of and want to uphold.
They also wanted to de-stigmatise the concept of ‘asking for help’ and to make wellbeing a mainstream part of the culture at Exchange.
What did the Chambers do?
Set up wellbeing representation
Exchange Chambers created a small wellbeing committee (of seven) comprising barristers and staff from chambers’ three locations. The purpose of the committee is to research, monitor and implement wellbeing initiatives within Chambers.
They sent out a wellbeing survey to both members and staff. The purpose of this survey was to gain insight into general perceptions of wellbeing and mental health, as well as garner suggestions for events and resources. A comprehension report of the results was compiled and presented to the executive committee.
They are now in the process of drafting a wellbeing policy for members and staff to provide a reference point for dealing appropriately and supportively with wellbeing issues as they arise.
Chambers also supports those who are suffering from long-term or chronic illnesses, as well as aiding family members affected, especially if there has been bereavement.
Celebratory events – Social Networks
Exchange holds congratulatory dinners/drinks to celebrate achievements such as judicial and silk appointments and ‘first cheque’ parties for pupils etc. Solicitors, members of the judiciary, family and friends and barristers from other chambers are encouraged to attend which creates an inclusive atmosphere. They always acknowledge and celebrate birthdays, employment milestones etc. within chambers and have found that such events really encourage cohesiveness and integration.
Given the size and location of Chambers across multiple sites, they recognised the need to communicate in a number of different ways.
For the last 18 months Chambers has supported, a children’s cancer charity. The aim of this activity is to not only raise awareness and money for a worthwhile cause, but to provide the opportunity for barristers and staff to participate in a range of fun and inclusive events. regularly holds a wide range of fundraising events which have included an online internal auction, bike rides, The Greater Manchester Marathon, weekly cake bakes, Easter and Christmas raffles, The Three Peaks Challenge, a fashion show, a wine tasting evening, and an inaugural charity ball.
All staff at Exchange Chambers are entitled to, a health cash plan, which provides benefits such as optical, dentistry, physiotherapy, holistic therapies and prescriptions.
The staff in Liverpool have established a health club which encourages exercise and healthy eating. Staff participate in a weekly weigh-in session and provide support and tips for one another.
Staff and members in Leeds and Liverpool are encouraged to attend Pilates and yoga classes specifically aimed at office workers which take place in vacant office space.
In a world of increasing digitalisation and fast-evolving technology, Chambers recognises the difficulty of managing information and technology. They acknowledge developments in technology can be stressful to keep up with, and provide as much training and information as possible.
Exchange offers a comprehensive level of support for pupils throughout pupillage. Each pupil is paired with a mentor (who is not their pupillage supervisor or member of the pupillage committee). This is to ensure that pupils can raise issues in confidence. In some circumstances Chambers is able to offer financial support for pupils during the first two years of practice.
What were the results?
70% of Chambers (both members and staff) completed the wellbeing survey. Results were shared at their AGM by their Head of Chambers. Following the survey Chambers has now agreed to give more recognition to wellbeing promotion and work life balance issues. Other members and staff have also emailed members of the wellbeing committee offering help and support.
Since the survey, members and staff have become increasingly comfortable sharing personal experiences of wellbeing.
One of the main conclusions of the survey was that internal communication is important. New and recently introduced channels of communication have been well-received over the past six months. Chambers are now planning to introduce a wellbeing feature in their new monthly newsletter and to invite external speakers to come into Chambers to talk about stress management etc.
Other suggestions from the survey now being adopted include more regular staff and barrister team meetings. Following the survey, staff also plan to introduce a staff suggestion box in the staffroom.
Based on feedback Chambers is also looking to offer more social outdoor and family activities.
Aside from the survey, Exchange has found their charity work has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on Chambers. Energy levels and morale have vastly improved. The frequency and diversity of fundraising events also been a catalyst for camaraderie between members and staff with many getting involved.
Members have been very positive about the increased supportive culture, particularly with respect to the introduction of practice reviews and departmental meetings.
“Exchange Chambers provide a great example of a chambers that already does a lot to support its members’ wellbeing but hasn’t perhaps yet brought it all together as a formal ‘wellbeing’ policy or strategy. It is great that they are now doing this (and we look forward to seeing their new policy and survey results) which will – we believe – make it easier to spot gaps in support and focus on what members need. We particularly liked chambers’ recognition that different activities – social, charitable, physical etc. support individual wellbeing and that it is important to offer as wide a range of activities as possible.”
Wellbeing at the Bar Working Group
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