Wellbeing - Adding health to the trademark practice agenda

Wellbeing - Adding health to the trademark practice agenda

This article first appeared in World Trademark Review issue 83, published by Law Business Research. To view the issue in full, please go to www.WorldTrademarkReview.com.

Whether working in the corporate or law firm environment, trademark practice leaders should ensure that they have a considered wellbeing strategy in place. 

Is wellbeing on the agenda?

While it is often on our minds as workers and to some extent on the minds of our employers, I would argue that it is essential. Whether you manage a few people, lead a large group or run an organisation, you are already in the business of managing employee wellbeing.

Every day, people miss work or, if at work, are unable to give their best effort due to health issues; poor mental and physical health costs businesses. If you do not believe me, run your sick day stats.

We all want to be physically and mentally healthy. There are 7,000 gyms in the United Kingdom with approximately 10 million members – that is one in seven people with a gym membership. However, UK citizens waste £4 billion on unused memberships a year. Good intentions, it seems, do not always lead to new habits.

Some of us look to the digital world for inspiration to keep our health in check. One statistic that stands out from a quick Google search is that there are a staggering 318,000 healthcare apps available globally. If we want health data, we have it at our fingertips – everything from sleep patterns and daily steps to calorie intake.

Other significant health trends include Veganuary – of the 250,000 people who took part in 2019, 46% did so for health reasons – and mindfulness. Not only is the latter big business in London, it is now recommended by the National Institute for Health Care Excellence for people who have had three or more experiences of depression. Yoga studios are also flourishing, while for runners, getting a place on a major, organised half or full marathon now often involves entering a ballot as they are so oversubscribed.

In the past 24 months, the taboo of talking about mental health has eroded. That is a brilliant thing. More than 1,400 UK organisations employing 3 million people have signed the Time to Change pledge, which aims to end the workplace stigma surrounding mental health. What is more, World Mental Health Day is now an international event.
The case is clear – wellbeing is on our minds and we are paying attention to it. So what is the role of the employer? Ultimately, it is essential to have a well-thought-through strategy that relates to your organisation.

Five key areas

In Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, authors Tom Roth and Jim Harter offer a great model of an employee wellbeing strategy. The five elements are:

  • career wellbeing – how you occupy your time and liking what you do each day;

  • social wellbeing – having supporting relationships and love in your life;

  • financial wellbeing – effectively managing your economic life to reduce stress and increase security;

  • physical wellbeing – being in good physical health and having enough energy to get things done daily; and

  • community wellbeing – having a sense of engagement and involvement with the area in which you live.

Although my organisation does not yet have a programme that covers all five, we are making progress. This takes time and partner buy-in is crucial. Carrollanne Lindley of Kilburn & Strode’s trademark practice underscores this point. “Every firm says that employees are its most valuable resource,” she admits. “However, if this is to be more than words, then firms such as ours need to institute both the policies and the money to implement such policies that ensure their workforces are happy and healthy. If we get this right, everybody benefits.”

The 2019 Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development report on wellbeing acknowledges that most organisations take some action to promote employee wellbeing, but there remains considerable variation in how strategic and proactive they are. Most act on an ad hoc basis, with mental health a key and increasing focus of organisational activity. Moreover, the majority report that their activity is designed to promote good work, collective and social relationships, physical health and strong values and principles. Fewer (37%) make efforts to promote financial wellbeing.

I am sure that any HR professional would want a coherent approach, but we all find ourselves doing things that are inconsistent. I would encourage you to consider how elements of your strategy fit together and how the overall approach fits in with your organisation. Communicating a joined up, coherent strategy will make much more sense to your employees than advertising a monthly yoga class.

Career wellbeing

When it comes to forming a consistent approach, law firms have an obvious starting point – we all have clear expectations of the number of hours that our people record and bill for. Many of our practitioners agree that it is all about ensuring they have a decent balance between their work life and their personal life. Having too many target hours means that lawyers or attorneys often do not even get the chance to cook an evening meal, which can be a real barrier to any wellbeing strategy making a difference.

It is also worth thinking about how existing polices align with your wellbeing approach.

For example, not having a flexible attitude to the working day, which allows individuals to use their time in a way that works for them, will push up against the best intentions of an employee wellbeing strategy. If you prohibit flexible start times or gym usage during work hours, this will again fly in the face of any wellbeing efforts. Presenteeism is a cultural issue that clashes with a sense of control and in my view should not exist.

Of course, law firms have numerous employees who work in business support areas and do not have the same time-recording expectations. Different things concern them; therefore, your approach should consider the entire company and its culture.

Overall, your strategy should be about helping employees to create new habits that affect their wellbeing in a positive and effective way. What is more, communicating your strategy is vital. Everyone should know that you have one, its purpose and how you will measure your investment.

Most organisations have some sort of learning and development programme, as well as clearly defined career progression and promotion processes. This is fundamental. Knowing where you sit in a team, where you are going career-wise and what is expected of you both now and in the future are the building blocks of a wellbeing approach – every employee should be clear on that. With this framework in place, you can then begin to build on it.

Social wellbeing

Social wellbeing is the second of the five elements and many would say the easiest. Most organisations will have a budgeted spend, which is usually for events that involve alcohol or unhealthy foods. I challenge you to think differently about this social aspect. Considering how much time we spend at work, putting in place ways to help people get to know one another outside of their daily role is important, but this should not be all about booze or junk food. Team events, networking and allowing people to be themselves at work are important factors, too.

Financial wellbeing

In my experience, financial wellbeing hits home when an employee asks for a loan or an early pay cheque. That does not happen often, but many people have cash-flow issues. Cities such as London are expensive, and if you work in a support role, cash can be tight, especially if you are the main bread winner. Money worries can get on top of people at different stages of their life. Graduates rarely max their pension contributions if they are focusing on saving for a mortgage deposit, whereas people over 50 are hot on their retirement savings goals. Having an education programme on savings, getting rid of debt and thinking about life goals should offer something for everyone. What is more, having an employee assistance programme, which offers a helpline for those dealing with financial worries, is a nice addition. This is arguably the most under-utilised resource that an employer can offer – it is all down to how you communicate its value and worth.

Physical wellbeing

The five elements model does not separate physical from mental health, but I think that it should and I would encourage both as part of a coherent plan. The statistics at the start of this article suggest that enough of us take our physical health seriously. But employers can support this by offering the flexibility to exercise when and where employees want and by introducing people to different forms of exercise and relaxation. Part of our company strategy involved running a month of weekly yoga and meditation classes in August, when people were less busy; this then encouraged employees to think about taking it up in their own time. In fact, we have seen this happen first-hand in the HR team.

Mental wellbeing

The most important thing that an employer can do in this area is to remove the stigma of talking about mental health and have a group of volunteers who can be trained as mental health first-aiders. People will discuss their mental health if they feel that they have permission to do so but this must be top down – leaders need to set the tone. Signing something like the Time to Change pledge is a good start but keep up the momentum. Ensure that your private medical cover, if you have one, includes mental health provisions. These are hugely valuable and often one of the things that makes a difference to employees.

Community wellbeing

Lastly, let us talk about community. What is your organisation doing to give something back? This part of your strategy will have a high impact if your employees are involved with setting it up. Feeling good is a powerful thing; sharing profits with a community organisation or charity will win employee loyalty. Giving every employee a day to spend donating their time to a cause that they are passionate about is a good start. But go further – invest in a cause that is aligned to the work that you do. This is empowering for everyone, and employees will talk about it in the pub or the gym with pride.

Whether we call it wellbeing or not, our businesses have always been dealing with this issue. Now, however, sickness is not the only statistic that we should pay attention to. Measuring productivity is vital, and understanding the impact of a healthy and happy workforce will reinforce the need to spend time getting this right.

This article first appeared in World Trademark Review issue 83, published by Law Business Research. To view the issue in full, please go to www.WorldTrademarkReview.com.

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