An organization must fully integrate well-being into the fabric of its policies, the culture it encourages, and its role in the industry to ensure the authenticity of any messages about well-being. By the same token, a well-being program has to be more than fun distractions, and it needs to bring in all people. Any sustainable solution to removing obstacles in the quest for well-being can’t include choices that help some people and not others, or help some people while burdening others.
The obstacles that are least likely to be resolved by a superficial well-being program are the ones most-deeply rooted in structural inequality. On top of the all-too-common-in-the-law stress, heightened pressure to excel and to exceed expectations, fear that disconnecting from work might mean missing the opportunity to succeed, and a blurring of the boundaries between home and work, being given an option promoted as a quick fix for mental, physical, and emotional health that addresses none of those issues for you specifically will add on a feeling of otherness.
How much of that sounds like lawyers you know? And does it sound like just the environment that the well-being movement is trying to alleviate.
Who’s in the Picture?
Does your mental image of a balance-oriented environment include welcome signs for colleagues of all races, ethnicities, nationalities, sexes, gender identities and gender presentations, sexual orientations, disabilities, neuro-atypicalities, family needs, ages, class and socio-economic backgrounds, and religions?
We’re talking about D&I. There’s no “I” in “team,” but there’s certainly diversity in the legal industry—even if there’s not enough and even if some of it is intentionally hidden.
For too many members of our industry, fighting for recognition and acceptance at work is a second full-time job. Sometimes that second job is pushing an organization toward greater diversity and equity. Sometimes it’s convincing others you’re worthy of respect.
Those fights are important for everyone, because no one can have the holistic sense of well-being if they don’t feel like they’re respected and valued.
What’s on the Table?
There are a lot of benefit packages out there aimed at improving well-being in the legal industry.
Biking benefits, for instance, are great but they don’t help everyone and they’re not accessible to everyone. And it doesn’t matter how many pedometers you hand out or catered lunch sessions you hold if the underlying message—including by implication or omission—is that only some facets of certain people’s well-being are worth solving.
The marginalized and tokenized individuals who have to contend with biases daily may not gravitate toward “well-being” options that seem like they’re designed to meet superficial needs. Those kinds of extracurricular programs and incentives don’t have the same substantive impact on well-being for anyone who is used to confronting systemic barriers in their profession.
That kind of attempt, while perhaps typically coming from good intentions, only underscores the pervasiveness of discrimination and exclusion in the legal industry. No matter how many upbeat promotional materials feature contrived esprit de corps, there’s no replacement for true diversity, equity, and inclusion.
That’s a big ask. It covers pay transparency, implementing policies to stop the “taps on the shoulder” for hiring and promotion, expansive and flexible accommodations for employees at all levels, and robust and interactive training programs. But most of all, it’s about accountability—both to foster inclusion and to support well-being.
Making progress will be about removing barriers. As those barriers come down and more colleagues are welcomed in as their own authentic selves, the result will be—necessarily—a stronger foundation of well-being in the legal industry.
Everyone can find related content available for free on our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page.
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