Wellness for lawyers…even in Australia

BIO_JDThanks to Jerome Doraisamy for this guest post. Jerome is a 29-year-old lawyer and writer from Sydney, New South Wales. He left legal practice after stints in commercial firms, academia and research, and a major federal government inquiry, to publish his first book, The Wellness Doctrines for Law Students and Young Lawyers. He currently works as a contract consultant for law firms and universities.

Culture can have an insidious effect, either for better or worse, according to the chief justice of the South Australian Supreme Court, The Hon. Chris Kourakis. Wellness initiatives must therefore cater to lawyers’ idiosyncratic needs. Simply checking boxes with standard topics related wellness is not enough.

This past month, the sixth Australian National Wellness for Law Forum—an annual conference for like-minded legal academics, practitioners, judges, practice managers and students—focused its attention on how best the law profession can engender greater levels of self-perception, diversity, inclusion, respect and empowerment, on individual and institutional levels. Australian lawyers gathered in Adelaide for this Forum, where former Australian Football League player Jake Edwards gave the keynote. Edwards founded Outside the Locker room to help support teen football players in Australia. He speaks in a way lawyers can understand:

Discussions of wellness in any endeavor or profession must be “idiot proof.”

That means empowering lawyers and legal professionals to incorporate wellness in their own idiosyncratic way.  “Wellness, for me, means being the person you need to be, not looking to others for inspiration,” Edwards explained. In other words, efforts to ensure a more personalised, human feel to wellbeing issues in law are paramount moving forward.

The workplace productivity of approximately one in three Australian workers is compromised by reduced levels of wellbeing, according to the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute. This reduced productivity—aside from the obvious health and wellness concerns for individuals—impacts upon national industry and economy.

But addressing such fiscal and commercial concerns cannot be done without adequate consideration for the personal and emotional. There are a number of places we as legal professionals in Australia, and indeed across the world, could start, as I learned from voracious consumption of the wisdom imparted at the Forum:

  1. Learning how to listen better

A problem shared is a problem halved. It people feel as though they can truly be heard when discussing issues (whether they be work-related or intrinsic) they are much more likely to feel appreciated and connected. Taking the time to really listen to people—and not just speak at them from our perspective, or project our own issues—when told of their struggles can make a tangible difference to workplace culture, civility and collegiality.

  1. Catering wellbeing efforts to all staff, including management

Those in senior positions have a professional duty of care to employees to ensure a safe workspace, but that duty can and should also be extended on a personal level, whereby a manager is seen to be an exemplar of balanced wellness. How leaders manage their own quantum of stress or workplace anxiety may lead to effective, specific strategies through which those in employ can be helped and also help themselves. As such, all institutions should ensure wellbeing activities cater to staff across the board, in order to engender wellness wherever it is needed.

  1. Effective integration of the personal and professional

Many people associate stress with the workplace, and well-being with home life. While this is, in many cases, both reasonable and understandable, there can and should be a better nexus between the two environments, so work becomes an avenue through which people are inspired and uplifted, rather than simply tolerating hours spent in the office. Initiatives aimed at increasing resilience and wellbeing should not simply be tantamount to putting a gas mask on the canary in the coalmine; compliance is only half the battle. A caring workplace culture, which caters to the personal and emotional needs of all individuals, gives rise to much more than mere compliance requirements. It makes people feel engaged which, by virtue, increases productivity and success.

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