Learn more about the wellbeing initiatives other chambers have been involved with
and how it has helped them.
Chambers has grown significantly in recent years and expanded into additional premises as well as having a number of members who often work remotely. This is obviously a positive sign of the commercial success of members, but we wanted to ensure that it did not come at the expense of health and personal wellbeing.
We formed a small group to co-ordinate wellbeing initiatives in Chambers working with the EDOs. Ideas were presented to the management commitment and budget sought for a variety of activities. Current activities and plans include:
The initiatives have been warmly received in Chambers. The results include:
Littleton Chambers has introduced a diverse wellbeing programme to encourage members and staff to feel supported and empowered both internally and externally. Chambers recognises that mental health and general wellbeing are important factors in individual success, both professional and otherwise.
By supporting mental health and general wellbeing, Chambers looks to create a positive and empowering environment in which to work.
The Inner Temple launched a Staff Wellbeing Programme in 2016 to promote a mentally healthy workplace. A group of volunteers organised events, lectures and a newsletter and the Inn took part in Mind’s first “Workplace Wellbeing Index”.
The full report was received in April and is helping the Inn to focus its Wellbeing Programme on the main areas for improvement.
Following our Equality & Diversity training in Spring 2016, a member of staff suggested that the Inner Temple should work on fostering an open and supportive culture where people felt comfortable speaking about mental health issues.
After reading the Wellbeing at the Bar Report we recognised that several members of staff were under pressure at work which, if not dealt with, could turn into harmful stress. The Inner Temple already provided an Employee Assistance Programme and Health Insurance but we felt that we could improve our proactive support.
A proposal was put to the Executive Committee and it was decided that, as a good employer, we should set up a Staff Wellbeing Programme to support staff. It was felt that a mentally healthy workforce would perform better and take less unnecessary sickness absence.
Our first step was to ask for volunteers to join a focus group to help implement the wellbeing initiative. We then signed up to the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index in order to identify areas for improvement. We received the full report in April and are using their recommendations to improve our policies and procedures to support mental wellbeing.
In the meantime we have organised several wellbeing events for staff. These included short massage sessions to highlight National Stress Awareness Day, a Macmillan Cake Sale, seminars to promote our Employee Assistance Programme, and a Mindfulness Lecture. We have also started a quarterly staff wellbeing newsletter and have experimented with social media (sharepoint & yammer) to create a wellbeing hub and to set up staff groups – e.g. a lunchtime running club.
Mind will be delivering ‘Managing Mental Health at Work’ training to all managers and supervisors this year. Following this we are planning to make Wellness Action Plans available for staff to complete if they wish.
The Staff Wellbeing Programme has been well received so far. More than anything, staff have welcomed the opportunity to interact with others outside their immediate circle.
It is very early days so we are unable to say whether there has been an impact on performance or sickness levels.
The Inner Temple achieved a Bronze Award in the Mind Workplace Wellbeing Index – this recognises that we have started the journey to better mental health at work by developing and implementing initiatives that promote positive mental health for staff. We received several specific recommendations from Mind including updating (or creating) some policies, focusing on awareness raising and anti-stigma activities, encouraging lived experience leadership, ensuring managers are adequately trained, and continuing to develop preventative measures and initiatives. We are currently working on an action plan to implement these suggestions.
Mind’s Workplace Wellbeing Index is designed to support people to have good mental health at work and enable employers to know how to create mentally healthy workplaces for their employees.
Participation in the Index enables organisations to:
*Although the Index uses the language of employer/employee the principles can easily be adapted to allow for a chambers model with both employees and self-employed members
The Index survey enables any organisation to assess gaps between their policy and practice, and get useful hints and tips and marketing materials for use in developing and delivering any strategy.
Matrix wanted to promote good mental health because they recognised that chambers is a busy environment, and that this can have an adverse effect on staff and members’ mental health if they aren’t encouraged to look after themselves.
Matrix also saw an opportunity to bring together existing initiatives and to get involved in new activities.
They defined their overall goal as ‘creating a comfortable workplace where mental health issues are discussed openly’.
Matrix were also motivated by the creation by Mind of their ‘Workplace Wellbeing Index’. This is an assessment of an organisation’s wellbeing and mental health support. Through the Index, Mind provide advice and guidance on how to improve internal policies and activities. Matrix had previously used other indexes (e.g. the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index) to successfully achieve this aim. They were therefore keen to both support Mind and take advantage of this new Index.
Matrix’s programme has only just started but they have already seen that staff and members are more open when talking about mental health.
They signed up to the Index in September, and were required to complete their survey by December. They have already received the headlines results (the full results are still due) and they anticipate they will eventually be able to measure impact by assessing any reduction in sickness absence. They also intend to compare Index survey results year on year.
Matrix provide the following tips for others considering a wellbeing strategy:
Matrix invest a great deal of energy in their equality projects and has already put in place lots of things to support the wellbeing of their staff and members, for example through an annual Health Week. However, they wanted to develop a greater focus on mental health specifically, encourage people to talk about their mental health in the workplace, and raise awareness of mental health issues.
They sought advice and support from Mind, the mental health charity, and in particular have made use of the Workplace Wellbeing Index as a framework for design and delivery of their Wellbeing strategy.
Doughty Street Chambers has introduced a holistic wellbeing strategy under the leadership of its Equalities Team, now called its Equalities and Wellbeing Team. The strategy seeks to encourage greater awareness of one’s own wellbeing, and an increased awareness of the wellbeing of others.
We wanted to recognise that managing wellbeing is as much about prevention as it is about cure. We therefore sought to make sure that while barristers or staff who needed professional support had proper access to it, we also introduced a range of other activities designed to support good mental health and improve resilience.
In addition, Doughty Street has arranged on-site massage sessions for barristers and staff, and plans to introduce yoga classes and nutrition courses.
Doughty Street sees its existing mentoring programme as an important element in resilience, and mental health first aid, as well as generating benefits in professional development and equality terms.
Finally Doughty Street has partnered with a mental health clinic for those who may need professional help, and has signposted members and staff to the other resources available such as LawCare and Inn-sponsored activities.
They started to initiate work on this agenda by speaking to a variety of people in chambers at varying levels of Call to ‘sound out’ their support, and explain the business case for doing so. There was overwhelming support.
They then looked at what other Chambers had done and found two other chambers’ CEOs who were prepared to share their Employment Assistance Program Information and a policy that they had used. They redrafted the policy, reflecting their own Set and provided the details of the EAPs to their management committee seeking their approval to have the ‘wellbeing policy’ added to the Chambers’ Handbook and Guide. They requested that reference to the new policy is made to new clerks, in the induction of new members and in Chambers’ ongoing commitment and training of all colleagues.
The proposal and policy was approved by Chambers’ ManCom and a financial amount committed to support the policy, associated training and activities. 3 Pump Court’s Company Secretary then took over investigating potential EAP companies, and found a policy with Health Assured which was very reasonable and provided everyone with cards and a policy number to allow confidential access, at no cost to the member.
A poster was then put up in chambers’ private workspaces in all locations (we are a Circuit Set) to advertise the new service. An email is now also sent out each month from the Company Secretary with information about the initiative. As the email comes from Chambers’ business manager it is received and read alongside other important business issues, which Chambers’ believe can aid perception of the information.
“As a senior member of Chambers I feel that I have a safe place to go to if I am experiencing any difficulties, and I am also reminded by the emails that these wellbeing tips and hints can be easily adopted. It connects me to health and issues outside of work and it makes me feel reassured that my Chambers does care about me and my wellbeing and optimizing my practice with this focus” – Rachel Spearing.
“I joined Pump Court Chambers for pupillage and have been a tenant for almost a year. Pupillage was enjoyable but also extremely challenging, not least in terms of dealing with the pressures that come with a year-long interview, starting on your feet, developing a fledgling practice and hoping to obtain tenancy at the end.
Getting tenancy was fantastic, but I have found that the pressures undoubtedly remain, albeit they are slightly altered. There can be a sense of bravado at the bar, particularly around the culture of working long hours and taking on tasks that appear impossible in scale. It is difficult at times to know where to draw the line between working hard and building your practice, and looking after yourself and keeping a semblance of a work-life balance.
As collectives of self-employed people, barristers’ chambers do not tend to have the valuable Human Resources infrastructure commonly found in employment settings. To have a policy in Chambers specifically aimed at wellbeing is an extremely positive step forward. It is important that all barristers, and especially juniors, have access to help and support in what can be an isolated profession.
The bar thrives because each generation helps those that follow. As barristers are so willing to lend a hand to their colleagues, wellbeing policies are really part of this tradition. But by building a policy with structured options, named mentors, routes to confidential advice and other services such as the Employee Assistance Programme, this tradition becomes something altogether more tangible and accessible. It becomes officially ‘okay’ to recognise that people struggle at the bar, they may need help, and it should be available. This is particularly important for juniors, and for pupils who may not otherwise know where to turn during pupillage, when there is such focus on impressing and performing at your best.
I am very proud to be a member of a set which is actively striving to improve wellbeing, and to change the culture at the bar for the better.” – A Junior Tenant
“We have enthusiastically embraced this thoughtful initiative in chambers and embedded it in our standard policies and procedures. As barristers we spend so much time looking after the problems of others but too often neglect our own. A Wellbeing Policy serves as a welcome reminder that it’s ok to seek help and support from time to time!” – Head of Chambers, 3 Pump Court
3 Pump Court is a mixed common law set, with teams of barristers operating in different areas of law, raising different forms of practice demands. Chambers’ had experienced colleagues becoming unwell with chronic illness, sometimes involving mental impairment and had also experienced cases of sudden death.
There was also a personal interest in pursuing this agenda. The Chair of the Wellbeing at the Bar working group (Rachel Spearing) is a member of chambers and it was important to her that her own chambers took a lead with policies and practices to support the wellbeing initiative being undertaken by Bar Council and the SBAs.
St John’s chambers in Bristol signed up to a local government wellbeing charter which they now use to provide a framework for wellbeing initiatives and as a quality mark for marketing purposes.
“The Wellbeing of chambers staff and members is central to our success and the initiative reflects this priority. It provides a concrete focus for wealth improvement via the noticeboard and associated activities, and sends a positive message about chambers’ commitment to both clients and the community. We hope other chambers will join the initiative” – Susan Hunter, Head of Chambers (July 2016)
The Bristol Workplace Wellbeing Charter is an award that recognises positive local employers who manage and support their workforce. The Charter demonstrates the employer is working to a set of locally and nationally agreed standards. It involves:
The Charter sets standards (and provides resources) for:
Aside from an existing commitment to the wellbeing of members and staff, as an added benefit, St John’s Chambers found adoption of the charter also helped differentiate their chambers in the local market (demonstrating social responsibility) and reflected the fact that five of their professional clients had also signed up to the initiative.
St John’s found one advantage of the Charter was that it provided a framework for chambers’ policies and initiatives.
They found there were some disadvantages with the Charter in that some of the language had to be adapted to suit a chambers environment (for the term employees in the Charter they needed to also accommodate self-employed barristers as ‘members’ of chambers). They were able to negotiate these adaptions with the local council.
In using the Charter, St John’s found:
St John’s Chambers suggest the following tips with respect to using a ‘Wellbeing Charter’
The information and resource packs on this website are designed to help you and your colleagues to work as a community for better wellbeing and professional resilience. If you want to provide feedback on these resources, or to get involved in promoting wellbeing please get in touch.
It can be difficult to make a living from law and it can be pressurised and demanding. Competition and an adversarial approach to everything can make collegiate relationships difficult. This website aims to provide you with the knowledge to manage these stressors, make emotionally informed, wise professional decisions and thrive in your chosen profession.
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