If awards are anything to go by, then Pinsent Masons is a step ahead on employee wellbeing. A ‘Best for Modern Families’ award in 2016 is just one of a number of commendations and trophies it has received in the past couple of years in areas including employer of choice, innovation in HR, and diversity and inclusion.

In a chat with Totum and Attune Jobs, Kate Dodd, D&I Consultant at the firm explains why employee wellbeing has become so important. "Working in law is increasingly competitive. The requirements of clients are sophisticated and whereas once, you would have had days to respond, you are now expected to get back to clients immediately," she says. "The increased demand means that it is necessary for everyone to be available, connected, and able to meet tight deadlines.  Our focus on employee wellbeing is to ensure that Pinsent Masons is as responsible to its employees as it is to its clients."

Dodd frequently refers to the firm’s determination to ‘do business responsibly’. In the context of employee wellbeing, this translates to a three-pillar approach:

  1. Personal health – both mental and physical
  2. Social wellbeing – relationships with colleagues, clients and the wider community
  3. Financial health – including financial planning and employee benefits.

All of these pillars are reflected in the firm’s wellbeing programme, says Dodd, which encompasses an array of offerings including: compensation and benefits, an Employee Assistance  Programme (providing the means for employees to raise concerns), an employee-led Disability and Wellbeing group, private health insurance, yoga/pilates, massages, running clubs etc.  Accessibility is key, so information on all topics can be found in one place, on the firm’s wellbeing portal.  The firm is also currently rolling out a new mental health strategy that will be fully embedded by 2020.

Flexibility counts

 

A further, and critical element of the Programme is flexible and agile working, which is offered to all lawyers and Business Operations teams.  Details are included in a comprehensive Agile Working Guide, which explains the firm’s approach to flexible and agile working, giving real life examples and encouraging people to discuss it with their line managers. Senior managers are also encouraged to be role models for agile working. In fact, from September 2017, none of the senior leadership team will have a set desk (including the Managing Partner, Senior Partner and Operations Director). They will be completely agile.

This follows on from steps that have been taken in the firm’s flagship agile working offices in Birmingham, where no-one has an allocated desk. People have lockers and need to book a desk every day (or block book if necessary).  "People may be sitting next to different people every day,’ says Dodd. ‘It is exciting – everyone moves around, having more conversations and sharing ideas, getting to know new people and sitting in different teams. The firm believes that this will increase inclusivity, widen networks, reduce unconscious bias, increase knowledge sharing and opportunities for business."

For Dodd, one of the key areas for the success of its Wellbeing Programme is reducing the stigma around saying, ‘I am not okay’, ‘this is too much’ or ‘I am not happy with X’. "This is more than mental health," she says. "It’s about changing our processes including appraisals so there are ongoing conversations at all levels about careers, workloads, performance. Nothing should be a surprise."

The firm has ‘value agents’ in each office as well as senior ‘value sponsors’ to help embed   its values: Approachable, Bold and Connected. They are ambassadors for the firm's values and run initiatives and events aimed to ensure that they are lived on a daily basis ‘When employees are making decisions, we ask that they use the values to guide them and that they reach out to Value Sponsors or Agents if they need ideas or support.’

Perception is everything

 

Dodd admits, however, that rolling out a wellbeing programme isn’t always easy. The greatest challenge perhaps is around changing perception. On one side, Dodd mentions the work that goes into convincing people to take wellbeing seriously, and to prioritise it even when employees are up against deadlines. And on the other, it’s about getting people to understand that they can reach out in confidence, in a safe environment and that to do so won’t be detrimental to them or their career.

She raises too the continuing need to reduce the stigma around flexible working – that "just because you work, say, part-time, it doesn’t mean you’re not ambitious".  The fact that the firm’s recent promotions round included a high proportion of flexible workers will no doubt help this.

But Dodd chiefly recognises that success across all wellbeing endeavours means getting the firm’s leaders to walk the walk. While huge strides have been made, and most leaders now embrace some level of agile working, she admits there is still some work to do here.

There is evidence of success too, however. Dodd reports that the early indications of an increase in agile work across the business suggest a reduction of absenteeism and presenteeism, the latter of which has a big impact on wellbeing. "[If] people don’t exercise or eat properly, they’re too tired to make the best decisions and innovation doesn’t take place," says Dodd. The inference is clear. Wellbeing isn’t just a nice to have, it’s critical for business performance.

Into the future

 

Looking forwards, the firm has plenty of plans to further develop its wellbeing programme: a new more centralised portal that joins up all aspects of health and wellbeing, better firm-wide publicity for its initiatives and increased senior leader buy-in for all aspects of wellbeing. With the firm’s Managing Partner John Cleland leading the new Mental Health Strategy and Property Sector Group Head James Crookes sponsoring the Family Support Network, it sounds like the firm already has its fair share of role models.

The test with these programmes is how well they stand up to stress – wellbeing can all too easily be forgotten in the midst of urgent deadlines or a change in market that makes business altogether more uncertain. But Pinsent Masons seems determined to ensure that employee wellbeing isn’t merely a fair-weather project – it’s an on-going priority that will fundamentally shape the future success of the business.

Attune Jobs supports the recruitment of talent into flexible and part-time roles across all business services functions in law and professional services firms. Click here to visit the Attune Jobs website.

 

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