The Importance of Mental Health as a Legal Professional
By Paul Garth
A couple of weeks ago I facilitated an engaging discussion with Grant Pritchard, Senior Legal Counsel at Spark New Zealand, and an advocate for positive mental health within the legal sector.
The virtual session was organised by the Australian chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Titled “Navigating the Brave New World With Optimism and Resilience” we discussed health and wellbeing, EQ & Resilience, Productivity and Leadership, and also dealt with the challenges of dealing with difficult personalities, and “championing positive change” through mental health programs, even within ambivalent workplaces.
Grant was generous with the wisdom of his experiences as he was with his time. His approach of combining grounded techniques with real life examples was perhaps the most compelling part of the webinar. His humanity is what drew him to champion positive mental health outcomes and he demonstrated how encouraging staff to “have the conversation” around mental health, and allowing them to help lead the initiatives equates to better buy in and, ultimately, to the longevity and success of the programs. A willingness to share was a recurring theme for Grant.
The metal health discussion then evolved into the topic of general health and wellbeing. The aim of a wellbeing program should be to constantly have mental health considerations front of mind, or very close to. That doesn’t always happen, and that is OK, but it should be the ultimate goal. My take from this was the importance of culture in shaping the conversation around mental health and well being. But what happens in an environment resistant to establishing wellness programs? The importance of seeking allies was discussed at length. Sharing experiences and the willingness to be open were offered as ways to break down barriers. However, it’s important to also respect the privacy of those that don’t want to share.
An experience Grant had with co-workers checking on each others’ wellbeing developed into a discussion around the second topic of the day, EQ and Resilience. The talk revolved around developing EQ, even for those where it doesn’t come naturally. The importance of communication and ‘practice making perfect’ was highlighted here.
The hazards and strategies of dealing with difficult personalities in the workplace were briefly canvassed, with communication again playing an important role here. Practical measures such as discussions through HR, taking place in a public space and other practical tips were spoken of. The point was raised that you cannot control the actions of others, but you have some bearing over your feelings and reactions to them.
The discussion moved on to Productivity in a disrupted world. Grant provided statistics on the positive impact wellness programs can have on productivity. He spoke of the ‘Professional Persona’ and ways it can hinder or obstruct productivity, particularly when staff might be concerned about their home lives seeping out over video meetings.
That raised the question of what it really means to be a professional and seeds were planted on how that term might be redefined into the future, particularly in relation to lawyers. From early in a lawyer’s career, being professional is equated with giving everything of yourself for your clients, even when the demands are unreasonable. Grant challenged this notion and contended that a lawyer can be professional and delineate their time at home. Given the current remote working situation for the majority of people, this point really resonated. The final section on leadership was brief due to time constraints, though Grant made the points well. The types of leaders in an organisation can have a major impact on the quality of conversations around health and wellbeing. What he pointed out, however, was that all leaders need to be kind to themselves on this topic. He encouraged everyone to embrace fallibility, to own up when they do not know an appropriate way forward, and to start by listening to their people. Coming in the week before International Men’s Health Week, and at a time when many people are concerned about ‘reintegration anxiety’ the chat with Grant was an important first chapter in the ACC’s 2020 In-House In Health program. I’d like to thank the ACC for the opportunity to facilitate the discussion and give a special mention again to Grant Pritchard for his thought provoking answers to my questions.
If anyone is interested in future In-House In Health events, or would like information on Vario’s Wellness initiative started in 2019, I would be very happy to pass on information. Alternatively, if you just want to chat about wellness and mental health, feel free to reach out. I would love to hear from you.
Vario Account Director