Sara Duxbury: Building a successful employee wellbeing strategy

The legal sector has more of a reputation for long hours and tight deadlines than it does for standout employee engagement. With this in mind, firms looking to attract and retain the best talent need to focus on supporting staff, keeping morale high and maintaining standards despite the high demands of the job.

Physical and mental health

Improving staff health will not only reduce the likelihood of sick days, but keep staff feeling happy and content in their careers. Not only this, hiring and retaining employees who are healthy makes for a more productive, high-quality business.

There are a number of ways to do this. For example, introducing schemes to improve staff health can be relatively minor and cost effective but extremely rewarding, such as complimentary flu jabs or free healthy snacks. Encouraging staff to be more active in their free time can also pay dividends when it comes to overall wellbeing, so it is worth investigating subsidised corporate gym or yoga class memberships. One initiative we found particularly effective at Fletchers was providing all staff with a pedometer, which appealed to their competitive spirits, encouraged them to be more active in the day and helped reduce inter-office emails.

It is also important to ensure that staff mental health is a business priority because the effects of poor mental wellbeing can be just as damaging to performance as low physical health. A key part of this is ensuring that communication between staff and management is strong. Half of our managers are now known as mental health champions, following Acas training on how to proactively spot and prevent mental health issues in their teams.

It is also worth educating all staff on how to identify the signs of stress in themselves and others and how to cope with it because mental health problems can unfortunately be difficult to spot or unconsciously ignored due to everyday obligations.

A vital aspect of improving both the physical and mental health of employees is ensuring staff have time to relax and switch off from hectic days. Simply encouraging breaks or offering additional benefits such as spa days can help relieve pressure.

Being flexible

Many employees, no matter what the industry, are prioritising time with family, meaning flexible working is a coveted benefit. Some organisations have wasted no time in implementing this new format of scheduling working hours, but some professions, such as legal roles, struggle to allow for more a more flexible structure.

This does not mean that it is impossible to introduce a flexible working policy at a law firm. To implement it successfully, firms need to ensure that all team members are fully informed on cases, clients and any other necessary details, to give all employees the opportunity to work flexibly.

At Fletchers, we introduced this when implementing our flexitime scheme. Our system has been carefully devised through consultation with staff, to ensure that client standards are maintained, while still allowing employees the opportunity to accrue up to 12 extra days’ leave on top of their existing allowance.

The impressive results of a well-executed flexible scheme are clear from staff feedback, too: since introducing flexitime we have surveyed our staff about their favourite aspects of working at the firm, and flexible working was a popular answer.

How does wellbeing affect a business?

While a strong wellbeing strategy may seem like a lot of planning and extra work, the rewards can largely outweigh the initial investment, so it is worth examining the results of such schemes to understand the huge improvements it can have on a business.

Since introducing the health and wellbeing scheme at Fletchers, we have not only tracked a decrease in sickness and absence, but overall business productivity and performance has improved. Another key benefit to the scheme was raising staff retention to almost 90%, far higher than the national average and saving the firm a predicted £70,000 in recruitment costs.

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Despite this, it is an unfortunate reality that in some professions employee wellbeing is not considered a priority. To ensure that a business does not start to lose top talent to more forward-thinking competitors, it is worth getting ahead of the curve to start reaping the rewards of improved employee wellbeing.

Sara Duxbury is head of people at Fletchers Solicitors