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Tai-heng Cheng, Victor Wan, Winnie Cheng, David Cho

With another pandemic-impacted year drawing to a close, and lawyers globally reconsidering their career plans, firm leaders know that they must make burnout and employee support an urgent priority.

 

AS PANDEMIC-TRIGGERED BURNOUT GROWS MORE COMMON, WHAT STRATEGIES CAN FIRMS TAKE TO COMBAT THE LONG-TERM EFFECTS?

TAI-HENG CHENG, Singapore co-managing partner, Sidley

During what has been a very difficult year-and-a-half for many, Sidley has encouraged our lawyers and professional staff to make health and wellbeing a top priority. First, we are regularly communicating about stress, mental health, and general wellbeing issues, and trying to minimize any stigma people may feel about seeking assistance. Second, we provide robust resources to support their well-being and that of their families. These include employee assistance resources for both personal and work-life issues, as well as a variety of resources to help them manage parenting and family responsibilities. We recently completed our virtual Sidley 5K. More than 500 participants from all 20 offices globally challenged themselves by running, walking, rowing and swimming. Every day we challenge our minds, so this was a wonderful way for participants to challenge their bodies and work through stress. One of the more innovative additions to our program this year has been to provide everyone in the firm with a free subscription to the Headspace app. The app gives them access to hundreds of guided meditations on everything from stress and sleep, to focus and anxiety, mindfulness exercises, workouts and more.

VICTOR WAN, partner, Linklaters

We have all been affected by pandemic-triggered burnout in different ways, and businesses need to truly support their people. Leaders need to be alert to the many challenges their people face and find ways to help them meet those challenges. Providing training and the odd teambuilding activity is not going to be enough. We need to show compassion and care and really get to know each team member at a more personal level through one-on-one conversations. Taking the time to listen during these conversations is essential in allowing us to provide the right level of support, build strong relationships based on trust, and foster a healthy, resilient and productive environment to combat the long-term effects of burnout. The pandemic has created a unique opportunity for leaders to act as role models and firmly reinforce workplace culture. We see this as a chance to connect with our workforce, share our vulnerability, and shape our workplace to ensure it continues to be a safe and caring environment for our team. Embracing new ways of working and reviewing policies in these areas to ensure they are current and remain fit-for-purpose are vital for businesses to sustain employee morale in this new normal.

WINNIE WENG, senior associate, Withersworldwide

Whilst the pandemic may have set start a period of high engagement, exhaustion has gradually set in due to a mixture of factors, including prolonged isolation, blurring of lines between work and life, and possible economic hardship. Symptoms of fatigue and burnout indicate stress which can have a long-lasting effect on brain physiology and function, thereby affecting productivity and efficiency. Pandemic-triggered burnout should be recognised and addressed promptly. The following strategies can be implemented: Prioritise and normalise conversations about mental health; organise various interest groups to increase connectivity and bonding within the firm; encourage frequent yet quick catch-ups between team members; encourage partners and managers to engage in non-work related conversation with colleagues where appropriate; create support groups for those employees in need, such as those who have childcare duties; and face and embrace the change in work habits and address relevant requests and demands from employees directly.

DAVID CHO, Asia co-managing partner, head of Hong Kong office, Dechert

As the pandemic continues to impact how we live and work, community and workplace support becomes increasingly important. At Dechert we firmly believe that our people need to be happy and well to deliver exceptional client service, and to help facilitate this we have created a holistic framework called THRIVE@ Dechert that actively promotes support for our people and all aspects of their well-being, from physical and emotional well-being to social connection and financial stability. Through resources such as online fitness programs, telemedicine assistance for both physical and mental health, as well as webinars and virtual support groups, every Dechert employee is encouraged to prioritise their welfare and embrace healthier living habits. Beyond resources and programming, we also believe that a culture of respect, gratitude, trust and empowerment is crucial to well-being. To bring people together during a season of physical separation, we introduced e-versions of our hard copy Dechert gratitude cards, enabling employees to send thank you notes to a colleague based anywhere in the world. We were extremely pleased to see more than 1,000 cards sent within the first week alone. Additionally, we continue to engage with our people extensively on critical matters such as flexible work arrangements and office re-openings. We value each member of our team firmwide and want them to feel appreciated during an unprecedented season. 

 

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