17 October 2023 marks Burges Salmon’s internal “Wellbeing Day”. In addition to various mental health initiatives, it gives us time to reflect on and amplify the support available to our people for managing their wellbeing at work – and in particular time to reflect on our mental health first aid (MHFA) offering.  

Post-pandemic, employee “wellbeing” has shot to the top of the business agenda, with statistics supporting the premise that happier employees are more engaged and more engaged employees show increased productivity and have a lower rate of absence from work.  This is borne out by what our clients are telling us, commenting that work/life balance and employee wellbeing are key priorities for their new joiners. With access to public healthcare under significant and well-documented pressure, employers are responding by taking a more paternalistic approach to wellbeing than we have seen in the past. Consequently, for many employers, an effective wellbeing strategy equates to much more than business sense, it’s also the ’right’ thing to do – particularly for employers who have ESG at the centre of their corporate agenda.

At Burges Salmon, our people-centred approach is at the heart of how we work and how we engage with our staff, clients and community. Our wellbeing strategy includes a number of different initiatives, including MHFA. 

As Co-Chair of the firm’s MHFA network and drawing on my own experiences as an employment lawyer and mental health charity chair, I have been closely involved with the implementation of our MHFA strategy. Here are three key features that I believe make our MHFA offering effective:

1. An MHFA Policy with clearly defined roles

The role of a mental health first aider is to be a point of contact for employees experiencing a mental health issue at work. They’re not medically trained or able to make decisions on an individual’s employment, rather they are there to listen, provide support and to signpost employees to appropriate help. This includes escalating any concerns internally or externally, where necessary. It is important to enunciate the expectations around the role of our mental health first aiders. We have done this by creating an MHFA policy that addresses:

  • the MHFA role (what it is and what it is not);
  • training requirements;
  • confidentiality and anonymised reporting; 
  • escalation processes through our People team; and
  • how mental health first aiders can support, amplify and champion for the firm’s wellbeing initiatives.

2. Structured meetings and agendas

Giving structure to our meetings and agendas has also been hugely beneficial. We are pleased to say that the volume of individuals seeking MHFA support is low proportionate to the number of employees at the firm so our MHFA meetings are held quarterly. We use a rolling agenda to cover peer support and training and we align the timing of our meetings to allow the opportunity to recognise and support national mental health campaigns such as “time to talk” in February, “mental health awareness week” in May and “World Mental Health Day” in October. We do this to raise awareness about the firm’s mental health initiatives and to encourage open conversations on wellbeing amongst our colleagues.

Outside of our meetings, we have private internal channels where our mental health first aiders can access support, share resources and deal with any tricky issues in real time. 

3. Measuring the impact of MHFA

Following the advice and guidance from MHFA England, we measure the impact and investment in our MHFA initiatives and the data we collect across the firm is essential to this.  This has included collating a mix of anecdotal evidence and data, such as information about the number of people accessing organisational support, and anonymised trends in colleagues accessing MHFA support. Maintaining confidentiality is key, of course, and we have measures in place to ensure this. Along with our staff surveys, this information feeds into the firm’s strategic approach to wellbeing. 

At Burges Salmon, we feel that MHFA plays an important part in our firm’s wellbeing strategy. If you are thinking about formalising your MHFA offering and would like to discuss this further, please do reach out to me or your usual Burges Salmon employment contact for further assistance.