Leadership on wellness fundamental, regardless of firm size

By Jerome Doraisamy|12 March 2020

Walking the talk is the “single most powerful and authentic demonstration” that a firm leader is a wellness advocate, and such action must correspond with individual firm needs.

Workplace culture – particularly one that imbibes the importance of wellness – “permeates from the top”, argues Swaab managing partner Mary Digiglio.

The commitment of a law firm leader to wellness will therefore be apparent to those throughout the workplace, and it will matter, she said.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Digiglio – who won the inaugural Wellness Advocate Award at last year’s Partner of the Year Awards – said that it is fundamentally important for law firm leaders to walk the talk on wellness, calling it the “single most powerful and authentic demonstration” of commitment to the health and wellbeing of not only one’s employees, but the firm as a whole.

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This is the case regardless of the size of the firm, but for boutiques, Ms Digiglio said that they likely need to be “more creative” in their commitment to wellness by virtue of having fewer resources than those at the big end of town.

“It is certainly my view that ‘unhealthy’ work practices and behaviour will be more readily apparent in boutique firms as there are less places to hide. However, I don’t believe the responsibility of leaders to wellness is of less or more importance depending on the firm size,” she mused.

“Bigger firms may have bigger budgets to invest in wellness initiatives and training. Whilst initiatives and training are important, they do not necessarily guarantee a working environment that promotes and practices wellness or that sets an expectation of partners and managers to advocate wellness.”

There are a handful of strategies that law firm leaders must avoid employing if they are to be effective wellness advocates, Ms Digiglio noted. These include: “delegating the commitment to wellness to others in the firm on the basis that the leader is too busy, spending firm resources on training and initiatives whilst ignoring inappropriate behaviour or not practically supporting people with wellness challenges and accepting the view that ‘wellness’ is not an issue in your firm or if it is acknowledged as being an issue, taking the view that it is not the employer’s responsibility”.

Understanding what doesn’t work is especially necessary, Ms Digiglio surmised, when surveying the broader landscape of the legal marketplace.

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In today’s busy high tech lives, it is inevitable that, for most of us working in the law, professional responsibilities impinge upon your personal life, either by taking phone calls to your mobile phone at odd hours or responding to emails at night and over the weekend,” she said.

“This requires a willingness for your personal life to be disturbed, an appetite to accommodate flexibility and resilience as well as an understanding and tolerance from your family and friends.”

With this complex landscape, she continued, there needs to be a greater awareness of people’s wellness as there is a greater risk of personal imbalance.

“If leaders want their people to be well and happy and to strive for superior client service, whatever the time of the day, leaders should take more responsibility for employing the ‘whole person’, for promoting a psychologically and physically safe workplace and for checking in on people's wellbeing,” Ms Digiglio concluded.

Leadership on wellness fundamental, regardless of firm size
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