One of the most harmful experiences to our mental well-being is isolation and loneliness. This is not to be confused with peaceful solitude or introversion (gaining energy from that peaceful solitude). Those are healthy and necessary forms of alone-ness. We can be alone and still experience connection and belonging with those who aren’t currently sitting with us. Isolation and loneliness, on the other hand, is a despairing lack of belonging that persists regardless whether the room is full of people or completely empty.
Business professionals within law firms often experience this isolation and loneliness by nature of the hierarchy that identifies them not only as “other,” but often, “less than.” They experience all the long hours, frantic pace, and unhealthy behaviors that lawyers in the firm do, as well as feeling marginalized, disrespected, or even invisible beyond their immediate service. In fact, to be labeled a “non-lawyer,” is to be identified by the absence of what someone is not. This “othering”–the view or treatment of certain people as intrinsically different from or alien to oneself–creates deeply harmful isolation, not to mention dysfunctional cultural systems that inhibit performance.
Law firm leaders who understand that well-being means all beings within the firm, begin to break down silos and caste systems and create high performing, psychologically safe cultures that weave connection and belonging. Steptoe & Johnson, LLP, like many firms I work with, ensures that well-being programs offered to lawyers are offered to every employee. What are other ways law firm leaders can begin to get it right? Remember the things that matter:
- Access matters: Make well-being benefits and programming available to everyone in the firm.
- Words matter: Use language and titles that are inclusive and respectful. Identify professionals by who they are and what they contribute, not by what they are not.
- Integrity matters: Most law firms have a values statement. Many times it is even hanging on the wall. A firm’s integrity shows when the treatment and experience of every professional in the firm is congruent with those values.
None of this changes overnight or even in a few months. The encouraging news is that steady, incremental improvement can begin at any point. It is late, but it is not too late.