In 2022, The Surgeon General released a report about the importance of mental health and well-being in the workplace.
The report outlines five essentials to achieve a mentally healthy workforce, including protection from harm, connection & community, and work-life harmony.
The framework is dedicated “to all workers who lost their lives during the pandemic and to their families. May this serve as a call to action to lift up the voices of workers, particularly those most vulnerable, and to protect their health and well-being.”
Workplace well-being isn’t just a buzz phrase as we head into 2023.
Many top organizations are taking steps to ensure their teams are happy, healthy, and productive.
The “Balancing Act” recently discussed the topic, along with ways to attract and retain top talent, with Faegre Drinker’s chief operating officer Jane C. Koehl, the firm’s well-being consultant, Ali Schroer, and managing director of Growthplay, Deb Knupp.
Faegre Drinker is a “firm designed for clients” with attorneys, consultants, and professionals in 21 locations in the U-S, London, and Shanghai.
Growthplay “unlocks growth potential for law firms and professional services firms by helping them put generosity and ‘other-centeredness’ at their core, transforming the way they operate.”
Listen to highlights from the conversation in this short podcast here!
Jane, the topic of employee well-being really came to the forefront during the pandemic. How so?
Jane C. Koehl:
“When our leadership team kind of got together during the pandemic, we stepped back and we said: ‘we have to do something.’ We had this window into the intersection of people's personal lives and professional lives like we've never had before. And I think that really created just a very authentic conversation amongst our leadership team, not just about the vulnerability and struggles we were seeing in our own people, but also amongst ourselves. At its core, we really think well-being is about how we thrive in all parts of our lives. If we cannot thrive in all parts of our lives, we can't really come together in all the ways we want to come together as professionals, as parents, as spouses, as caregivers. And so it was really important for us, as we added on additional resources as part of this constellation of our mental health and well-being program, that those benefits and those resources were available not just to our colleagues, but to their families. Our colleagues can’t really thrive in all parts of their lives, if they're worried about how their spouse, or their partner, or their child, or their parents, is thriving. And so, it was really important that we made those benefits available to them, those resources available to them, even if they didn't participate in the rest of our health and welfare benefits.”
Ali, tell us how you became Faegre’s in-house well-being consultant?
“They said ‘we know that our people need support, can you come in and start giving some talks and some presentations on things to make sure that we are starting to at least address and take care of the wellbeing needs of our people?’ From there, that's really when I think those conversations evolved. I started to learn about some of the things people started talking amongst each other as well and saying, like, gosh, this is actually really helpful. We need more of this from different lenses, not just Ali, we need Homethrive, we need all these other features that we have, that they all do different things and work collaboratively.”
One component of the firm’s strategy is an initiative called “We’re All Human.” Can you tell us how it works?
“It's a once-a-month conversation via WebEx or Zoom. And it is open to all colleagues across the entire firm. It's meant to be a candid conversation with leaders of the firm about mental health topics, as well as just human topics: their highs, their lows, everything that comes in the middle of that, and highlighting that, just like the title says, we're all human. Right? The piece that I really enjoy about it is that it highlights the resiliency that people have, but also highlights the challenges that people experience. And sometimes I think, especially in law firms, there's a disconnect between one level of the organization and kind of the top level of the organization. And there's a perception that they've never struggled, or they always do so well, or nobody messes up, like this whole ‘imposter syndrome’ kind of complex. It debunks a lot of that, and really talks about how they struggled when they were associates, and they struggled last week, and yet, they’re still leaders.”
Deb, you work with lots of law firms to help them unlock their true potential. What do you think of Faegre’s well-being program?
“There was a tremendous amount of courage during the pandemic to pay attention to what experts were telling us, what the science was telling us. The reality is that many are predicting that some of the greatest and most epic consequences of the pandemic are still yet to be reached in 2024. So, what I can say with great confidence is Jane and her executive colleagues said we really need to pay attention to what we can do. How do we get in anticipation and not simply wait reactively to say ‘Oh, well, people are struggling. Now we're going to respond.’ That’s what I've really appreciated about this strategy. And where I think Jane will be able to share, is just how powerful it is to get out ahead of something, and not doing it because every other law firm is doing it, but rather, we're going to do this because it's the right thing to do.”
Jane, what advice do you have to other organizations about taking that first step to creating a well-being program?
Jane C. Koehl:
“I think the first step is to take an opportunity to do some listening; authenticity about your own space and place is helpful. If you're thinking about, how do I approach my leadership team about some opportunities or some strategies to put resources in place for your people, I think the best way to go about that is to have facts, right? It's much easier to go to a leadership team with facts and plan for an approach than it is to just sort of speculate based on what other people are doing. Every small step you can take makes a big difference in somebody's life.”
Deb, how does having a well-being program give firms the upper hand in attracting and retaining top talent?
“So much of differentiation is really a function of are you ‘out-behaving’ your competition when it comes to the kinds of things that any firm could invest into? Bells and whistles, whether it's flex time or time off policies, or hybrid work, or perks of longevity or anniversaries, or recognition gifts, or gratitude, or different educational experiences. And by and large, there's a lot of sameness with regards to how firms are making investments in the name of workforce effectiveness. What I think is the differentiator, though, is not just what you're doing, it's how these things are coming to life. I think the second thing is to see that mental health, well-being, caregiving, is embedded into every aspect of the work that we're engaging in. So, we don't think of this as, well you do your well-being stuff after you've hit your billable hours, or you know, this whole mental health/self-care thing, that's only after you've landed the million-dollar client, after you've done your sales and client service, then we're going to give you some room and space. I think taking a very integrative approach and having an attunement that this isn't something that stands alone as an outside program, but it is very much integrated.”
Jane, as part of the well-being program, your firm added the Homethrive caregiving benefit to the mix. Why did you do that and how has it worked out?
Jane C. Koehl:
“I was completely unaware of Homethrive until one of our partners introduced me to their CEO. And I learned about why he started the company. And I talked to some peers and other firms who immediately said this has become our widest used benefit in the firm from day one. And I can tell you, I have probably twice a week numerous emails in my inbox of people who have found their way to Homethrive. I have emails that say: ‘life changer, life changer; I was at the end of my rope. This was a life changer. I think it's worth it, if you haven't talked to them, it's worth having the conversation. If you can't do it this year, consider future engagements It’s a tremendous resource that I just personally missed that that we had a need for. So I'm grateful for that partnership.”
Listen to highlights from the conversation in this short podcast:
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