Carla Loveday and Natasha Smith
It’s about ‘simply taking a few seconds every day for our mental health… to pause, breathe, disconnect and then reconnect, so we can find clarity’.
The campaign has become a mental health awareness platform to encourage a conversation. In partnership with Art of London, we can see each portrait displayed on Piccadilly Lights and in the National Portrait Gallery from 14 September.
Professor Tim Kendall, NHS National Clinical Director for Mental Health for England, says this:
“At a time when the world is moving even faster, with many of us working harder, trying to deliver tomorrow yesterday, the Take A Moment initiative reminds us to slow down, to step back, to stay still and just be. A simple action that can make such a difference to our collective emotional and mental wellbeing.”
On ‘My Whole Self Day’ earlier this year, Mental Health First Aid England encouraged us to consider how we may all be able to impact our workplace culture so that we are empowered to both bring our whole self to work each day and take good care of ourselves; to take a moment.
Simple, right? Or is it?
Carla Loveday and Natasha Smith of CooperBurnett LLP started exploring and invite you to join in the conversation!
Carla: I remember being told very early in my working life that when I arrived at work in the morning, my personal life was to be left at the door and I could pick it back up on the way out. You didn’t talk about mental health, wellbeing or work/life balance and remote working was not even a discussion point, let alone a possibility.
I do believe that this was already changing as a typical workplace culture, but the Covid-19 pandemic accelerated the mental health in the workplace conversation. Compassion and empathy made their entrance on unprecedented levels. Employees, employers, and business owners began openly talking about their own conditions of mental health wellness on social media. Obscurity was dispelled, myths busted and permission given to talk about our feelings and personal experiences; for the first time, mental health became as important as our physical health.
Natasha: Yes, I completely agree. The world of work has changed significantly in so many respects since I first qualified, thankfully. The legal profession is hugely competitive and at the beginning of my career, I was very aware of the level of expectation required to be deemed successful, which usually involved an expectation that only those who worked excessive hours and sacrificed many other areas of their life would progress through the ranks.
Although I have always been prepared to work hard for my career, I had also always wanted a family and I didn’t know how that would be possible whilst working within that environment. A single comment that was made to me as a newly qualified solicitor when I announced my first pregnancy “well that’s the end of your career” had a detrimental effect on my mental health because at the time, I unfortunately believed it. Now I know that, in the right environment and having an employer who fosters a culture of work life balance, it is very much possible to have a successful legal career and bring up a family.
Natasha: Whilst it is promising to witness the shift in mentality that many employers now have towards the mental health of their staff, I have noticed that employers can at times feel overwhelmed by the speed of these changes and there is a danger that it might become something of a tick box exercise they are trying to complete, to cover everything off instantly.
This is, however, an opportunity for employers to stand out from the rest by making real changes and actually embedding them into their cultural values.Since the Covid-19 pandemic, employees now seek a more enriched and holistic work environment. If employers embrace this shift by genuinely putting the wellbeing of their staff at the forefront, I believe it will help them become known as an employer of choice within their sectors, attracting and retaining talent for the longer term.
Carla: In the Corporate and Commercial Team, the overwhelm you mention is how we have also seen that the impact can manifest itself from time to time, through the stress and anxiety levels displayed by business owners and senior managers during a business or company sale or purchase. The scope of employment and HR related policies is becoming broader to now include policies covering mental health, wellbeing and menopause, for example.
What strikes me is that employers carry a great deal of statutory responsibility and fiduciary duty in respect of attaining knowledge and understanding, implementation of and adherence to employee related legislation while also running their businesses; that their own self-care drops further down or completely falls from the bottom of their daily list of priorities and it’s our entrepreneurs that I worry may burn out in plain sight.
Ultimately, organisational culture change begins with its business leaders. I would like to see employers creating space and time in their daily schedules to prioritise their own ‘take a moment’ each day, which in turn encourages their employees to also power down and reboot.
Natasha: As an employment lawyer, I often advise employees who have been or are going through an extremely difficult time at work and so when they take that first step of contacting me for legal advice, they are usually emotionally drained, exhausted and frightened about what the future holds for them.
They may have been bullied by a colleague or by members of management, their role and responsibilities may have changed significantly resulting in the erosion of their role over time or they might have been overlooked for promotion or opportunities to develop. All of these scenarios (and a multitude of others) can have a detrimental effect on their confidence levels and can leave them feeling as though they don’t hold any value to a business that they have given their time and loyalty to.
Much of the time, employees are looking for some support at work and often feel let down when they don’t receive the support they need. Whilst my role is fundamentally to assist these clients from a legal perspective, there is also often the need to encourage them to take a breath, pause and give themselves some time to focus on the impact the situation they find themselves in has had on their mental health.
Essentially, they need to “take a moment” for themselves to improve their mental health before it is possible for them to be able to decide upon the appropriate legal strategy that will help them find a resolution to their particular employment issue.
Usually this means seeking advice from a medical professional and removing themselves from the workplace for a period of time which allows them to step back from the situation that they have become so consumed by. It also usually helps them to see that the toxic environment that they have been involved in is no longer beneficial to them and taking that moment offers some objectivity and provides a clearer frame of mind for them to make important decisions.
Carla: You’ve hit the nail on the head! As lawyers we do not operate in a silo of legal practice. We read the room, flex and pivot to the needs of our clients, and we give space for stress, anxiety and pressure to outflow.
Thanks to television programmes from LA Law to Boston Legal and Suits, there is a common misconception that corporate lawyers are clinical and all about the deal. Speaking personally, I’m more a mix of Bridget Jones and Ally McBeal! The point I make is that we are often a sounding board, listening ear or hand holder through some exceptionally stressful seasons for our business community, adding our behind the scenes value of emotional support and practical solutions; cutting through key issues to reach a point of clarity and establish a pragmatic way forward, while injecting humour and real human connection so that our business owners can “take a moment”.
CooperBurnett LLP is an all service firm for business and private clients. To find out more about who we are, what we do and how we help our clients, please do visit us at www.coooperburnett.com and read our testimonials.
If you have read something in this article that relates to a situation you are experiencing at work or in your business and would like to find out what you may be able to do about it, please contact Natasha Smith at email@example.com (Employment) or Carla Loveday at firstname.lastname@example.org (Corporate & Commercial). Our switchboard number is 01892 515022.
And if you would like to join in with our conversation on mental health awareness, please do leave a comment; we would love to chat with you!
As a Partner, member of our Management Board and Head of the Contentious Department, Joseph Oates, said during the Covid-19 pandemic;
“Wherever you are, we are here for you!”