With unemployment at 5% in the UK and record levels of redundancies, the end of 2020 was a bleak time for many people. Combined with the ongoing Covid uncertainty of new variants, vaccines, lockdowns and quarantines, it is easy to understand why many people might decide that it’s not the right time to move jobs.
There is, however, another side to that coin. The Bank of England’s latest forecast is that by the end of 2021 we will have seen a full recovery to where things were pre-Covid. Even at the end of 2020, 87% of companies said they were struggling to fill positions. Remote/agile working has become the norm, so people can look at opportunities across geographic locations without the need to relocate, thus dramatically increasing the pool of possible opportunities.
Of course, there are lots of traditional reasons to consider a career move which focus around the elements of a new job. Career progression, flexibility, work-life balance, types of work or increased remuneration are all elements that a new role can offer and can be worth considering and exploring. Notwithstanding the pandemic, there are many ambitious lawyers seeing opportunities to improve their careers and taking them.
There is one particular reason, however, which has become noticeably more prominent in my recent conversations with lawyers – getting away from what some have labelled as a ‘toxic’ work environment. Recognising this type of environment means you need to consider a move.
As Mental Health Awareness is gaining greater prominence, a majority of law firms are embracing positive changes or updating their offering to employees around maintaining their mental health. Being a practising lawyer can be stressful at times which means that having a strong support system in place is essential – a 2019 Report flagged that 76% of solicitors felt that stress and mental wellbeing was a major issue for the legal sector. I have seen this personally as well. I recall being shocked at a conversation with a finance lawyer who told me that her firm had a built-in buffer for people in the team to be off work on burn-out.
We have seen a lot of firms rise to the challenge and provide excellent support for their people during Covid. Firms have organised virtual team bonding sessions; made conscious efforts to use video conferencing; facilitated ‘camera off’ group exercise classes; provided reassurance and tried to shoulder the financial burden themselves as much as possible. It is likely that one of the best impacts of Covid will be the enhanced awareness of, and readiness to support, the mental health of lawyers.
Another indicator of the change in attitudes is the number of law firms signing up to the Mindful Business Charter. CMS became signatories in 2019 and the number of law firms has steadily increased during the last year with Pinsent Masons, Allen & Overy and Travers Smith all signing up during 2020. There are now 44 law firms who have put their names to the Charter.
The signs of a positive work environment are not dissimilar to any other relationship and these indicators may have crystallised during Covid and lockdown. The best law firms are addressing all these elements to make their people feel secure, valued and mentally healthy:
- Support – Have you felt supported during this period? You should have access to a confidential service for discussing concerns.
- Communication – What is being said and is it encouraging? Clear and open communication is essential.
- Behaviour – This is especially relevant if you are working from home. Your employer should trust you to work as in the office, they should encourage you to still take breaks. Standing up once an hour is a good idea – your Apple Watch agrees!
- Honesty – Do you feel confident the firm is being honest with you? Do you feel confident being honest with them? Openness and honesty are essential.
- Financially conscious – The Partners should be aware of the financial pressures and concerns you might have. A good firm will at least be sharing the burden with you.
- Aware of your needs – Do you have a forum to make your views heard? You should feel able to make different suggestions or requests.
- Happiness – It is normal to have the occasional bad day at work but fundamentally you should be happy to do your job.
The shift in attitudes and awareness caused by the pandemic is not just being felt within law firms and lawyers are feeling increasingly comfortable talking more publicly about these issues. I am now regularly having conversations where a person will discuss the lack of support at their current firm being a factor in their decision to move. Just as Covid has crystallised the positives, the same is certainly true for the negative elements in those law firms who have not taken the issue as seriously as they should.
Fortunately, there is no need to remain in an environment which will be detrimental to your health. The vast majority of firms have created supportive, healthy and challenging workplaces which will make a positive contribution to their employee’s lives. And, as mentioned earlier, 87% of employers are still struggling to fill their jobs because of skills shortages so there are other opportunities available for many lawyers.
If you would like to arrange a confidential conversation to understand the range of opportunities available and discuss making a possible move, then please do contact Chadwick Nott.
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