Page published on 4th November 2022
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On 13 October 2022, in collaboration with the mental wellbeing charity Jonathan’s Voice, we held an Inclusivity Unlocked! webinar entitled “What’s for starters?”. It looked at how to support junior team members’ mental health in the post-Covid workplace. The panellists reflected on the findings of the student version of the recently published IP Inclusive/Jonathan’s Voice 2022 mental wellbeing survey in order to understand the current issues and challenges for early-career IP professionals.
The survey results resonated with the panellists, particularly in terms of the stress and anxiety experienced by many students facing the pressures of work and exams, and the impact that this can have. The panellists described their own experiences of talking about mental health with their peers, colleagues and managers. They also talked about their experiences of good practice and their ideas for supporting new starters and trainees in all roles.
The panellists were:
- Joel David Briscoe, IP consultant at JDB Intellectual Property, part-qualified patent attorney
- Emily Collins, Partner at Kilburn & Strode
- Julie Crosbie, HR Manager and Diversity & Inclusion Advisor at Appleyard Lees
- Katie Goulding, Chartered Trade Mark Attorney and Senior Associate at CMS UK
- Tom Hailes, newly-qualified patent attorney at Beck Greener
- Richard Wells, Senior Associate at Potter Clarkson
The discussions were chaired by Penelope (Penny) Aspinall, Mental Health Consultant at Jonathan’s Voice.
MENTAL WELLBEING SURVEY RESULTS
Sharing findings from the survey, Penny highlighted the high numbers of student respondents who indicated that their work had been adversely affected in the past year by high stress levels and anxiety. The main causes of stress were exam-related, as well as deadlines and billing targets.
The main impacts of high stress levels were reduced productivity and difficulty concentrating. Significant numbers were considering leaving their current job or even the profession.
In spite of these figures, the majority of respondents took no time off work for their mental health. The reasons for this included feeling they should be able to cope, having too much work to do and the impact on colleagues, and concern about career prospects.
These findings very much resonated with the panellists, who noted the very steep learning curve for trainee attorneys, as well as the requirement to combine on-the-job learning and exam preparation with a heavy workload. Exam pressure is very real since exam success is usually what determines career progression, position and salary. It was argued that organisations should be more active in facilitating students in their exam preparation, for example in terms of study days, since both the student and the employer benefit when a student passes their exams.
Emily was keen to note that being open about mental health issues need not affect your career progression. She has always been open about her own mental health and it hasn’t held her back – she is now a partner.
WHAT DIFFICULTIES HAVE YOU FACED YOURSELF OR NOTICED OTHER TRAINEES FACING?
People no longer have the same kind of relationships and support networks that they had pre-pandemic, either within their own office/organisation or with trainees from other organisations. Meeting and getting to know other trainees is so valuable in terms of peer support and friendship and the current generation of trainees has missed out on this compared to previous generations.
The relationship between trainer and trainee has also suffered in many cases as a result of the pandemic. Moreover, remote working has also led to trainees missing out on learning various “soft” skills, eg by sitting in on client calls or meetings.
It was also noted that the skills required to be an effective manager and trainer are not the same as those required to be a good attorney.
Another difficulty can be a lack of support in the aftermath of exams in terms of assisting the significant numbers who don’t pass.
WHAT DO YOU THINK COULD MAKE IT BETTER / LESS STRESSFUL FOR NEW STARTERS?
The panellists shared a range of ideas for managers:
- Read the Jonathan’s Voice Guide for Senior Leaders.
- Take responsibility for the wellbeing of your team.
- Offer your team a daily opportunity to check-in and ask questions.
- Monitor the workload of your team members, particularly if they receive work from more than one person. Consider whether billing targets are helpful.
- Help new starters to find their place in your organisation.
- Provide ways for trainees to reach out and for trainers to be held accountable.
- Encourage students to take exams at their own pace.
- Actively include trainees working remotely on client calls and meetings.
DO YOU HAVE ANY PERSONAL EXPERIENCES OF GOOD PRACTICE WHERE THINGS WERE PUT IN PLACE THAT REALLY HELPED?
Tom appreciated that he was taught skills related to time and workload management, and he has found mentoring / buddy schemes to be beneficial.
Richard encouraged honest conversations between trainer and trainee to establish what works best for both individuals.
Emily recalled that at the start of her training, all trainees spent time in the different offices of the organisation. Now she can see how beneficial that was in terms of the trainees bonding very early on and forming supportive relationships and friendships that are still ongoing today.
Julie gave several suggestions for supporting trainees, eg trainee handbook, trainee area on intranet, regular contact with HR, and ensuring they know who they can turn to and that they can ask anything – there are no silly questions.
WHAT CAN FIRMS DO TO CAPITALISE ON POST-COVID WORKING PRACTICES?
Emily was keen to dispel the myth that organisations have a choice between supporting wellbeing or increasing productivity. It’s not one or the other – they are linked in that high stress levels negatively impact productivity. So, investing in wellbeing should be top of the agenda for every organisation – with the outcome being healthier and more productive employees.
Richard and Joel described how flexible and remote working have opened up many opportunities to employees. Going forward, organisations should look at giving employees more flexibility and supporting their wellbeing in order to attract and retain staff.
WHAT IS YOUR ONE TAKEAWAY FROM TODAY’S WEBINAR?
The panellists’ takeaways all revolved around the theme of “It’s OK to not be OK.” Taking time for your mental health is not selfish or shameful. It’s in everyone’s best interests. People should not be worried about speaking up. Talking to and connecting with others can be really helpful as often you’ll find you’re not alone in your feelings and experiences.
PLEASE GET IN TOUCH
We would love to hear your thoughts, comments or suggestions. Please do get in touch with us by commenting below or via email to [email protected].
Jonathan’s Voice would also be delighted to hear from you if you’d like to discuss your own organisation’s needs in more detail. They can provide free advice, seminars, workshops, talks and other forms of support and are happy to visit you in person: contact them via their website or email [email protected].