Goodbye job applications, hello dream career
Seize control of your career and design the future you deserve with LW career

The benefit of 12 paid wellness days a year

This boutique offers its staff one fully paid wellness or mental health day a month on top of regular leave entitlements — something the firm founder said was “vital” post-pandemic.

user iconLauren Croft 22 June 2023 SME Law
expand image

With employee wellbeing now being a “positive legal obligation”, many law firms have implemented wellness days or additional leave entitlements to combat burnout in the profession.

This was seen post-lockdowns in October 2021, when Colin Biggers & Paisley gave staff a day off on Friday, 1 October, as did Hall & Wilcox, with Lander & Rogers offering staff three days off in October, November and December that same year.

One boutique, however, expanded upon this initiative — and implemented a policy that allowed staff to have 12 mental health and wellness days per year.

 
 

Umbrella Family Law currently offers staff a paid mental health day once per month in addition to their leave entitlements, which partner and founder Eve Smith said “staff tend to use if they are feeling overwhelmed or have a health appointment which again negates the need for sick leave”.

Ms Smith founded the firm with Jane Libbis — and said that the firm’s mental health day policy started during the COVID-19 lockdowns in Melbourne.

“We found our staff were struggling day to day being restricted in where they could go and what they could do after working hours whilst having been sat in their home environments working all day. There was no escape and no work/life balance. Our staff were less inclined to take annual leave having nowhere to go but were exhausted and mentally drained from the uncertainty of COVID and what the future held,” she explained.

“Jane and I considered offering a week’s mental health leave and closing the business for a week but felt that was a short-term solution. Given we didn’t know how long a lockdown would be for and whether there would be more, we felt it more beneficial to staff to have a day a month. During COVID times, all of our staff regularly took the one-day-a-month paid mental health day leave. Now our staff are less inclined to do so as regularly, but the option is there should they choose to take it.”

This kind of policy was — and remains — particularly important during and post-pandemic, as more businesses attempt to draw staff back into the office.

“There are people who prefer their own company and are happy working from home, others crave a social environment, and it is finding that balance within your law firm that works for everyone whilst ensuring some aren’t isolated and that your staff have sufficient support, be it at home or in the office,” Ms Smith explained.

“We are finding now the stress for all is in relation to financial affairs, continual rate rises and the inability to meet repayments and liabilities.”

Many law firm leaders have emphasised the importance of flexibility, particularly for working parents, as well as why mastering hybrid working will be key moving forward, especially in a candidate-driven market.

Australian boutique FAL Lawyers encourages remote working on a more permanent basis, after consulting with staff and key industry stakeholders about what the future of work looks like to them. Hive Legal’s commercial team, which won Commercial Team of the Year at last year’s Australian Law Awards, also supports a “truly flexible” workplace.

Shine Lawyers also unveiled a new nine-day fortnight option for staff in August last year, following the news that Coutts Lawyers & Conveyancers had done the same.

“We value our staff, and our firm doesn’t operate unless we are a team and look after one another. Investing one day a month to take care of yourself is vital, especially in the area of family law, which can be very emotional and stressful for all,” Ms Smith added.

“Our staff know that if they are feeling overwhelmed or run down or need a day to themselves, they can take their monthly mental health day. It is an opportunity for staff to recharge, away from the office and the stresses of life, knowing they are not eating into valuable annual leave and are not financially disadvantaged for taking a day away from the office. All of our staff have the option to take their monthly mental health day regardless of how long they have been at the firm or whether they work full-time or part-time.”

This policy, as well as the firm’s stance on flexibility, has also allowed Umbrella Family Law to attract and retain increased talent and support work/life balance within the team.

“We have been able to attract lawyers from wider Victoria to work with us who ordinarily wouldn’t have been keen to travel into the city. We still operate a hybrid working arrangement whereby most of our staff come into the office three days a week,” Ms Smith added.

“Some staff work entirely remotely. It is extremely important to Jane and I that our staff have a positive work/life balance, and in order to achieve that, we need to consider each staff member individually to see how best we can meet their needs and the needs of their family in addition to the needs of the Umbrella Family Law team.”