The IP profession can often prove to be stressful. Long days, complex legal issues, client-based challenges, and working to strict deadlines can often take its toll on the mental health of attorneys and support staff in this environment.
As methodical people who aim to find specific solutions to complex issues, it can be hard to accept when you are faced with a problem which simply can’t be fixed with logic. This often results in individuals becoming insular and suffering with issues such as anxiety, stress, and depression privately.
At Wynne-Jones IP, we recognise that it can be hard to open up about the private battles you may be facing and discuss your inner thoughts.
But just remember – you’re not alone.
In the spirit of supporting our peers in the IP profession, we recently held a very successful Mental Health Awareness Week event in conjunction with IP Inclusive and the IPO, which we fittingly titled: Get Off That Hamster Wheel! Perspectives on stress management for a better work/life balance.
The session, held on 11th May 2017 addressed the stigmas and common misconceptions surrounding mental health issues.
We welcomed a host of prestigious speakers on the day, who all spoke out about the importance of supporting those with mental health concerns, and recognising it to help alter attitudes in the workplace.
Tim Moss, Chief Executive Officer and Controller General of the UK’s Intellectual Property Office (IPO), opened the talk with an insightful comment about how far the profession has progressed in openly discussing mental health.
As often recognised, IP professionals can bottle up the stresses associated with the job for fear of seeming ineffective in their roles, weak, or simply a failure.
Thanks to events like this, it encourages people not to suffer in silence, but to open up to their colleagues about their daily struggles, and to accept their mental illness for what it is – an illness, for which IP professionals should receive support to cope with in a stigma-free environment.
Addressing the importance of protecting mental health and changing perceptions of mental illness, IP Inclusive leader Andrea Brewster, said “mental health doesn’t have to be a life sentence”.
“And it certainly isn’t a sign of failure,” she added.
She highlighted the detrimental impact of taking a hard stance on mental health, claiming that it could cost us some of our most talented people. She also stressed the importance of putting in place safeguards to protect both the physical and mental health of staff.
Her enlightening talk led us into a popular Wynne-Jones IP pastime – the Snowball Shareback.
Those taking part had to share words they associated with mental health – and the results were surprising.
Loneliness, misunderstood, worry, weakness, struggle, and fear were among the words used, which gave a sense of the concern among attorneys surrounding mental health issues. And they are not alone in those feelings. Nine out of 10 people with mental health problems still feel they experience isolation and discrimination, speaker Ewan Hilton of Welsh mental health and wellbeing charity Gofal said.
During his talk with the group, he highlighted some of the worrying statistics surrounding mental health perceptions in Wales. He said 25% of Welsh people would not let someone with mental health issues look after children, the same percentage do not think you should be allowed to work in the Welsh Assembly, and 10% think you should not have children. But thankfully, Ewan and Gofal are working tirelessly to change perceptions and lobby to improve mental health, encouraging people to embrace work, not shy away from it.
In promoting change in the workplace he added that: “A happy, motivated workplace is a healthy workplace”.
Lesley Evans, Sustainability Manager at the Intellectual Property Office, and Jim Houlihan, Deputy Director at the Intellectual Property Office couldn’t agree more. They stressed that the mental wellbeing of those in the IP profession is always a consideration, due to the demanding nature of the job. They offered tips to the attendees including aligning your mental and physical wellbeing to create more balance in your life and spoke about the IPO’s commitment to the Time 2 Change campaign. For information on Time 2 Change, see here.
They urged attendees to consider eating a more balanced diet, exercising, and even treating themselves to a massage to help improve their mental health outside of the office.
At the end of the day – we all know IP can be a demanding profession which can prove to be stressful, at times demanding, and frustrating. But if this informative session has taught us anything, it is that you are not alone. No-one needs to suffer in silence.
Make Your Pledge
At the end of the event, everyone was invited to make a pledge on one thing that they would do differently going forward to have a healthier work/life balance. Pledges included:
- I will stop working at a fixed time and actually switch off my PC (and my phone) (and my tablet)
- Make more of an effort to ask all staff members how they are, and really listen to their answers
- Share my experiences for this session with colleagues and keep on leaving my door open
- If a colleague appears stressed or worried about something, make more of an effort to ask how they are. Perhaps also suggest going for a walk outside at lunch time to take a break away from the desk or a stressful case!
- Know when to ask for help and not see it as a weakness
- Ask and listen to responses not just pay lip service
- Talk about my own experiences with managing depression
- Be more open/talk to colleagues when I am stressed
- Spend more time off my computer during my lunch break
- Stop working and checking email when I’m supposed to be off work / at home in the evenings
- Get outside at lunchtime
- Make more time for exercise and relaxing activities, even if I don’t feel I have the time
- Leave on time more often
- Remembering that I do not live in the office! It is not my home
- Check up on people more regularly
- Ask other people how they are doing and how they are coping with work loads
- Make someone laugh in the workplace
- Talk about the Time 2 Change campaign with the partners and get the firm signed up
- Measure the wellbeing of my team (starting with how are you?)
- Try to spot any changes in character
- Think of something that may make you happy and plan for it asap
What will your pledge be?For those of you who may be feeling overwhelmed, here are some top tips on improving the mental health of your colleagues and yourself in the work place.
1. Always speak up
Bottling up any mental health worries could lead to serious mental or physical health which could seriously impact your life. Always share any concerns or troubling thoughts you have at the earliest possible opportunity. By discussing mental health as part of this initiative it helps to eradicate negative views and supports people in speaking out.
2. Failure isn’t the end of the world
As IP attorneys you are taught to identify and minimise risk and find the specific solution to a problem. As such, failure can feel overwhelming. Recognising that failure is a normal part of everyday life that everyone experiences is a step in the right direction.
3. Putting you first
Getting help as early as possible is absolutely vital. Addressing any mental health issues before they multiply and balloon can help to minimise any long-term damage. Recognise the signs, if you are feeling overly exhausted or responding out of character, make sure to sit down and address this with someone you feel comfortable with.
4. Office responsibility
It’s so important that everyone plays a role in recognising that a colleague is struggling and creating a supportive, and stigma-free office environment. Recognising symptoms like fatigue, over tiredness, headaches, and change in moods could be symptoms of a deeper problem. Managers should always ensure staff feel happy to speak up if they are not coping.”
Thank you Wynne-Jones IP for hosting this event and for this excellent article. If you would like to write a blog article for us, please email Emily Teesdale of Abel & Imray. Guest bloggers are always welcome!