By Barb Mica and Nicole Doty
BROWNSTEIN HYATT FARBER SCHRECK
As we hit the six-month mark of working from home, taking care of ourselves is more important than ever. COVID-19 caused unprecedented stress and uncertainty, and prioritizing mental and physical health during these challenging times is key. To quote Patrick Krill, an expert and researcher on lawyer well-being, “The workforce you sent home several months ago is not the same workforce that will be returning.” Sustained remote work poses unique work challenges and can impact feelings of connectedness, productivity and professional well-being. This is particularly hard on those working in the legal industry, where so much of our work is based on relationships: relationships with our client, our colleagues and our communities. Mental health and wellness must be a priority for law firm leaders now and well into the future.
At Brownstein, we are still working remotely. We miss face-to-face collaboration and being connected with the firm as a whole. To ensure we meet the needs of our employees, we rolled out an anonymous wellness and remote work survey to everyone with the goal of better understanding their needs during this time and to gather input on other firm priorities. We were blown away to see an 80% participation rate given averages for surveys like this can range from 20%‒60%. Firm leadership reviewed the 108 pages of feedback, suggestions, compliments and critiques to come up with a list of immediate actions items.
From this research we found several aspects of our wellness program to be essential in making sure we’re doing everything we can to make wellness a priority: transparent and frequent communication, a robust wellness program supported by the firm that includes dedicated staffing and access to resources for all employees.
Transparent and Frequent Communication
We heard loud and clear that while we’re all separated and navigating unprecedented times in our careers, the need for more communication is essential. Rich Benenson, managing partner, and other firm leaders have been transparent about the risks to mental health and wellness and taken proactive steps to educate the entire firm so people can get help they need.
In response to our surveys, we began planning a new approach to the town hall meetings we’d been doing since March. Our virtual meetings are more frequent and at times, targeted at smaller groups. We host health and wellness seminars on topics suggested by our survey participants. We also responded to survey feedback by increasing reimbursements for all employee home office setups.
We will continue to elicit feedback and encourage everyone to share ideas with us. This critically important feedback has gotten us to where we are now. We also plan to make firm leadership even more available to discuss challenges and ideas throughout every part of the firm.
Dedicated Wellness Team
Another survey takeaway was the need for more wellness-focused trainings and information. Fortunately, we already had dedicated staff working on a firm wellness program dedicated to fostering lifestyle changes and supporting a healthy culture. It offers opportunities for employees to manage and improve their overall well-being, and we continually enhance the program as it changes and grows organically based on the needs of communities it serves. This team is rolling out new programs on highlighted survey topics from nutrition, exercise, ergonomic setups for home offices, techniques to improve quality of sleep and mindfulness.
As we enter the fall, we expect mixed reactions about returning to an office setting our wellness team will need to address for the next phase of this new normal.
We’ve added additional resources since the start of remote working. We launched a twice-weekly virtual fitness class available to all employees in all locations at all fitness levels. Lisa Hogan, shareholder and certified yoga instructor, offers a virtual yoga class three times weekly.
COVID-19 impacts have been exacerbated for working parents. Parenting and remote learning have been top of mind and a focus of firm resources. We partner with Bright Horizons, which provides backup child and elder care, discounts on nanny placement services, exclusive tutoring discounts, search tools to find educators for small-group pod learning and many other helpful resources as our working parents deal with fluctuating needs for their children and the return to in-person and remote learning. We hosted an August virtual presentation on balancing working from home and parenting with a child psychologist from the local children’s hospital.
We created a Brownstein Buddies program, held over the summer months that virtually paired our employees’ older children with younger children to provide activities that gave parents a well-deserved break. And, our Women’s Leadership Initiative leans on each other to keep connections strong—and advice flowing—during their Walk with a Woman program where members are paired for a 30-minute walk and telephone chat. This simple outreach provides much-needed bonding and support.
Another resource available 24/7 is our Employee Assistance Program. Provided in partnership with Mines and Associates, it is a confidential and free resource designed to help employees and their household members manage personal issues and concerns, and offers sessions with a certified wellness coach.
Our wellness team created a “Wellness Tip of the Day” email series with helpful resources and wellness strategies. They find experts in all things wellness to offer virtual presentations on topics including addiction and mental health, financial wellness, stress management, meditation and a healthy cooking demonstration. Additionally, the team is working to launch a virtual 5K to promote wellness, plus create connections and reinforce camaraderie. We hope it will be a fun way to cheer on our colleagues and celebrate each other’s accomplishments, regardless of skill level.
Our goal has always been to maintain a healthy workplace for everyone at Brownstein. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, this came to have new meaning. We will continue to take a conservative and careful approach to reopening our offices. We will also approach our employees who might be dealing with some of the most difficult times in their lives with grace, compassion and as much flexibility as possible. These historic times have taught us the importance of caring for ourselves, our families and our communities.
Stay safe. Be well.
— By Barb Mica, COO and Nicole Doty, senior benefits specialist at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck