Support from leadership is vital in order for any wellbeing initiative to be successful and Fletchers Solicitors are a shining example of that
Fletchers Solicitors is a law firm that specialises in medical negligence, serious injury and motorcycle accidents. The work can be consuming and stressful, which is why Fletchers created the ethos that means their team members want to get up in the morning and work hard because they’re motivated, supported and valued as part of the team.
The overall mental health strategy is a major part of this. They try to normalise open conversations about mental health. Tim Scott, Director of People at Fletchers Solicitors explains “We do this in a number of ways, such as our ‘tea and talks’ where people can come together and there’s no agenda, no plan for the meeting, it’s just a get-together with a bunch of people who want to talk about issues around mental health, whatever they might be. We’ve found them useful to just get people talking about things.”
One positive outcome of one of the ‘tea and talks’ session was the formation of a choir last year. Fletchers have also assigned mental health champions who are people who’ve had a degree of training to discuss mental health issues if any member of staff needs to. “We’ve trained a number of [our] Marketers in mental health first aid and later this year, we want to run a company-wide overall wellbeing survey, to assess how everything is going” Scott adds.
To advertise initiatives such as the tea and talks, Fletchers send regular email updates. The company have also begun using Workplace by Facebook to improve internal communications by removing the formality of emails and intranet systems. “Email is very one-to-many, whereas what we’re already finding is Workplace encourages two-way communication, and we’re already finding less than a month in, over a quarter of the workforce were already using Workplace regularly.” Scott explains.
Communication is essential for workforces who want to de-stigmatise and start having open conversations about mental health. However only a few organisations are using a nuanced approach to start an open dialogue with their staff.
Scott admits that it can be difficult to identify whether an employee is facing mental health issues, “[You don’t know] how many people are ringing up with a ‘cold’, when actually what they really have is a mental health issue. So, unless you can encourage people to be open about it, you’re not going to really know how big a problem it is.”
From the tea and talks they were able to establish that their staff were not comfortable speaking about their own personal mental health in a group setting and from this they decided to train certain staff members as mental health champions. These champions are able to facilitate one-to-one conversations with staff about any mental health issues they may be facing. “They’re not necessarily meant to have the answer, but perhaps can signpost people in the direction of what help is available,” Scott explains.
Hierarchy is something all organisations need to be conscious of, because having support from the top with any business initiative is important. Employees will always look at what is modelled by senior members of staff and respond accordingly. This is something that the executive team at Fletchers understands, “Our Founder and Chairman is very supportive and encourages a workplace where people are free to talk about mental health issues, personal issues or business issues.” Scott adds.
“All that said, we were conscious that if we made managers or senior managers mental health champions, that would be where the hierarchy may play against us. People might not feel as comfortable talking to a member of C-Suite as they would a peer, so we’ve tried to get a proper spread in the organisation, as much as we could.” Scott explains.
The organisation also understands that flexibility is key for those with mental health issues. Employees who may go through a period of suffering with mental health problems are given the same flexibility as any employee who may suffer from a physical ailment. “I think what I tend to find is that every situation is different. We do have policies and procedures, but we can be flexible in that and adapt to each individual case.” Scott states, “Using a broken leg as an example, some people might break their leg and it’s healed within four to six weeks. Some people may have continual pain for some time afterwards. To my mind, it’s much the same with a mental health issue.”
“Some people might have a really difficult time and then, for whatever reason, they get over it and they’re pretty much back to normal. For some people, that may carry on for a long time. So for me, it’s important that as a people team, we work with our managers to make sure that we’re doing something that suits the individual, whether that’s flexible working, whether that is regular one to ones with a manager, with a mental health champion, somebody else. We can pretty much do anything that is possible within the bounds of the business.”
“The Employee Assistance Programme is something that we do encourage people to use. One of the things we’re discussing in the team is that, although we do mention the EAP all the time, a lot of people don’t hear about it and think, that’s something I need. They might need reminding about it. So it’s just the importance, of keeping reminding people about it, because you never know when somebody might be in need of it.”
The company foster a culture of sociable and lively in an environment that can be stressful. With regular social events, free fruit and breakout areas for comfort breaks, employees are able to socialise and feel comfortable in the workplace.
“It would probably be wrong of me to say it’s relaxed, but in terms of how we approach managing people, I think human is the key word. That’s something I think it’s easy to forget in an organisation where you’ve got lots of policies and procedures and targets, so we try always to bear that in mind.” Scott adds. “I’m kind of hypothesising, but I think because we started out as a small family law firm which has grown rapidly in the last few years, so we know what it feels like to be part of a family firm and we try and keep so much of the spirit of that at Fletchers.”