When it comes to big workplace issues law firms haven’t been shy in making pronouncements about their own efforts to tackle issues like diversity and family-friendly working.
Yet, scratch beneath the surface and the reality is that many such initiatives are often nothing more than tick-box exercises to win favourable PR, with no real substance behind them.
So, I was surprised to see Samantha Brown, a partner at Herbert Smith Freehills on BBC Breakfast last week talking quite so openly about the problems she experienced at work, as part of the Institute of Directors campaign launch to tackle mental health issues in the workplace.
A quick Google search later and I discovered pages and pages of posts and news about the success of Herbert Smith Freehills’ mental health programme.
The programme, which started in 2009 with awareness raising and education sessions for partners, has since grown and appointed over 60 programme mentors, all of whom received trained both in mental health awareness and how to apply mentoring skills in this context. Just recently the firm announced it was adding more mentors to the programme.
The mentors act as a network in the firm to promote its wider mental health and wellbeing programme, including seminars, panels and events featuring keynote speakers. In December, for example, the firm hosted a talk by Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former director of communications and strategy, who has done so much to raise awareness of mental ill-health.
What was clear in listening to Samantha’s Brown’s story is that she has been fully-supported by her employer every step of the way. Further, the firm’s actions demonstrate that they are fully-committed to the programme and ensuring the mental wellbeing of all their employees.
I applaud their commitment. It’s not an easy area to tackle and if their motive was good PR, there were much easier initiatives they could have chosen.
Similarly, Samantha Brown, a partner at commercial City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills, says she was given lots of help from her employers when she suffered a breakdown. “I wasn’t really aware what was happening to me. I became exceedingly tired, couldn’t sleep, felt teary, anxious about my work, to the point where I felt I was operating in a fog. I had lost my mental agility and I found that terrifying.” She eventually got help and was sent “kicking and screaming” to a psychiatrist, spending time in a psychiatric hospital. This year, she has been working full-time and she credits her office for being “brilliant, supportive and going over and beyond what was required”.