Fostering a positive emotional culture in the legal sector: a vital pathway to mental health and wellbeing
By Matt Verrell - Former lawyer, Executive coach, Wellbeing advocate, Transition Coach, Mentor and LawCare helpline volunteer and peer supporter.
In today's fast-paced and demanding legal landscape, the importance of mental health and wellbeing has gained significant recognition. The legal sector is gradually awakening to the significance of cultivating a positive emotional culture within its ranks. A positive emotional culture not only enhances the overall work environment but also plays a crucial role in fostering mental health and wellbeing among legal professionals.
Understanding emotional culture
Emotional culture refers to the shared attitudes, assumptions, and behaviours that govern which emotions people have and show at work, including those that they feel should be suppressed. It gets to the heart of how people are really feeling day in and day out. This can be distinguished from cognitive culture which is the shared intellectual values and assumptions that serve as a guide for a firm or organisation to thrive. Whilst cognitive culture is important, it’s only part of the story and there can be a disconnect between what is actually happening on the ground.
In the legal sector, where high stress and long hours are the norm, emotional culture plays a pivotal role in shaping the experiences of legal professionals. A positive emotional culture promotes an environment where emotions are acknowledged, valued, and managed effectively, leading to improved overall mental health outcomes. Here’s the bottom line: every firm and organisation has an emotional culture, even if it’s one of suppression.
Breaking the stigma - Historically, the legal sector has been characterised by a 'tough it out' mentality, where displaying vulnerability or seeking help for emotional struggles was often seen as a sign of weakness. This stigma surrounding mental health issues has perpetuated a culture of silence, hindering emotional wellbeing. By fostering a positive emotional culture, the legal sector can break down these barriers and create an environment where individuals feel safe and supported in addressing their mental health concerns.
Reducing burnout and enhancing resilience
Long working hours, heavy workloads, and the pressure to achieve can contribute to burnout. A positive emotional culture encourages open communication and the sharing of emotional experiences, allowing individuals to connect and support one another. This sense of community and shared understanding can mitigate feelings of isolation and helplessness, ultimately enhancing resilience and reducing the risk of burnout. Firms that place a positive emotional culture front and centre as the key driver of wellbeing can reduce levels of absenteeism by x11.
Improved client relationships
Lawyers often interact with clients during some of their most challenging times. A positive emotional culture enables them to empathise and connect with their clients on a deeper level, resulting in stronger client relationships. When clients feel understood and supported, it can lead to better outcomes and increased satisfaction. Additionally, a legal team that prioritises emotional wellbeing is better equipped to handle emotionally charged cases or transactions with compassion and professionalism.
Attracting and retaining talent
As the legal sector evolves, younger generations of lawyers are placing a greater emphasis on work-life balance and wellbeing. A positive emotional culture can differentiate law firms and organisations as employers of choice, attracting and retaining top talent. Younger lawyers, in particular, are more likely to seek out workplaces that prioritise mental health and provide resources for emotional support.
Cultivating a positive emotional culture with the emotional culture deck
When I’m facilitating workshops with leadership teams and employees around culture, I will always have them experience The Emotional Culture Deck (the ECD). As a qualified practitioner in the use of the ECD I love how this uniquely simple card game promotes face-to-face conversations about what really matters in the workplace. Some of the world's biggest and most successful cultures trust this simple yet powerful tool to nudge vulnerability, build empathy, create connections and foster trust within any team.
Collectively we uncover what truly motivates us and our people, and map the desired team culture. The result is the intentional co-creation of the working environment we want and need to thrive and perform at our best. Good leaders recognise the power of emotional culture. Great leaders help to shape it.
The legal sector stands at a pivotal juncture, recognising the need for a positive emotional culture that values mental health and wellbeing. By fostering an environment where emotions are embraced, understood, and managed constructively, the legal profession can transform into a more compassionate, effective, and sustainable field. As leaders in law commit to cultivating a positive emotional culture, they take a significant step towards ensuring the holistic wellbeing of their profession and redefining the landscape of the legal sector for generations to come.
If the above strikes a chord with you or your organisation, or if you’d like to experience the ECD for yourself, Matt will happily arrange a suitable time to connect: Matt's LinkedIn page.