We recently sat down with Nikita Barsby, Senior Associate at MDC Legal as she provides some insight into the importance of workplace wellbeing when starting a new law firm.
Why is workplace wellbeing so important?
It has been said that workplaces “are a hub of important human exchanges which are vital to the wellbeing of individual workers. Work provides employees with purpose, dignity, pride, enjoyment, social acceptance and many social connections… These non-pecuniary attributes of work are important and their denial can be devastating to the legitimate interests of any worker, either skilled or unskilled.”: Bromberg J, Quinn v Overland  FCA 799 at . So many of us spend so much of our time at work – workplace wellbeing is vital to our health both in and out of the workplace. Positive and healthy workplaces benefit employees and employers alike – employees are motivated and enjoy coming to work, while absenteeism and turnover reduce and productivity increases.
What are the barriers or challenges hindering employees from seeking help?
There are many industries where, for a long time, heavy workloads and long hours have been the norm and the expectation – the legal industry is one. In these contexts, it can be difficult for an employee to speak up if they are not coping, for fear of being viewed as weak, lacking commitment or resilience and being seen less favourably compared to other colleagues. The more leaders within these industries who recognise that unsustainable workloads are not conducive to peak performance and lead to burnout, and who advocate for, model and prioritise health and wellbeing – leading by example, the easier it will become for employees to prioritise their own health and wellbeing and seek help when required.
How can workplaces take a preventative approach to employee health and wellbeing?
Expressly committing to employee health and wellbeing and being accountable to that commitment (even possibly through a KPI!) can assist with a preventative approach to employee health and wellbeing. It is important for employers to set the tone in the workplace that health and wellbeing is and should be a priority through leading by example. This can be as simple as openly leaving on time to eat dinner with your family or to attend a group fitness class. Workplaces can also get creative as to how to support their employees’ health and wellbeing in small ways – for example, providing healthy snacks instead of the usual biscuits, awarding or gifting employees in ways that support their wellbeing (e.g. massage vouchers), offering additional “special leave” or time off in lieu following intensive periods of work.
What’s one thing you can recommend in terms of processes or best practices to have in place to support employees experiencing mental health conditions?
A simple regular ‘check in’ can be very useful, not just with employees who may be experiencing mental health issues. Regular coffee catch ups, team drinks or lunch room chats can help with keeping a finger on the pulse as to how employees are travelling, and can assist with identifying support measures that may assist employees facing challenges. There are many simple ways to support employees which are not onerous to implement – especially temporarily. This can include altering start/finish times, temporarily re-allocating particular types of work, allowing extra time to complete tasks, reducing noise in the workplace for employees who struggle to concentrate, or writing down instructions for employees who are experiencing difficultly remembering details.
Nikita Barsby (BA LLB, Murdoch University) is a Senior Associate at MDC Legal, with almost a decade’s experience in workplace and employment law. She is recognised as a recommended employment lawyer in Doyle’s Guide to the Legal Profession in 2018 and 2019. Nikita has worked with Corrs Chambers Westgarth and Lynn & Brown Lawyers, prior to joining MDC Legal. Nikita has advocacy and negotiation experience in the Federal Court of Australia, the Federal Circuit Court of Australia, the Magistrates, District and Supreme Courts of Western Australia, in the Fair Work Commission and in the Western Australian Industrial Relations Commission. She advises employees and employers on all aspects of State and Federal workplace laws, including unfair dismissals and general protections matters, contractual and statutory rights and obligations, the drafting and interpretation of employment contracts, redundancies, performance management and termination and discrimination. Nikita also works with Human Resources practitioners and business owners in the development of workplace relations strategies, policies and procedures. You may connect with Nikita by email: [email protected] or on LinkedIn