The Mindful Business Charter is ‘clapping with one hand’ until more businesses adopt the mental health initiative, with in-house legal departments making up less than a quarter of the 38 signatories.
The charter, devised by banking giant Barclays alongside law firms Pinsent Masons and Addleshaw Goddard, added another 17 organisations today (10 October). It aims to cut down on workplace practices that contribute to stress and poor mental health among lawyers, such as encouraging people to be clear in emails when they need a response if sent outside business hours and not expecting people on annual leave to be on call.
While still in its infancy, the charter has been in train for more than a year and support has so far weighed heavily on the private practice side, with just five of the 17 signatories in the latest round in-house legal teams.
Network Rail, Coventry Building Society, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS), Nationwide Building Society and Coats accompanied 12 law firm signatories today: Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner, Burness Paull, DAC Beachcroft, Dentons, HFW, Irwin Mitchell, Morton Fraser, Paul Hastings, Radiant Law, RPC, Squire Patton Boggs and TLT.
The total number of signatories now sits at 38, with just eight in-house representatives. Barclays’ fellow financial services firms Lloyds Banking Group and Natwest were inaugural signatories when the initiative launched, while another nine law firms were added in May.
While acknowledging the signatories have so far been ‘massively law firm heavy’, Pinsents’ diversity and inclusion consultant Kate Dodd told Legal Business the new firms add ‘huge’ client bases which will benefit the charter.
‘There’s a huge amount to be done to bring businesses on board and it’s also very important that [companies] get their houses in order first. It is going really well and it’s amazing how far we have come, but until more businesses come on board [the initiative] does not really work and we are clapping with one hand.’
Barclays managing director Philip Aiken, a key architect of the charter, says a perceived obstacle hindering organisations from signing up is ‘the culture and a fear that people might be asked to work less hard’.
He told Legal Business: ‘Law firms have historically been places of high levels of stress and people have chosen to go in-house to reduce those stress levels. I think we’ve seen fewer in-house organisations join up because perhaps they see less of a need for an initiative like this.’
Conversations about mental wellbeing have intensified in most forms of public life but the legal sector has been slower on the uptake. In a Law Society Junior Lawyers Division survey in April, 48% of trainees reported suffering from poor mental health, a notable jump upwards from the 38% that reported the same last year.
For more on the charter, see ‘No alarms and no surprises – Behind the Mindful Business Charter’ (£).