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Immigration, Real Estate

Workplace wellness an issue for firms of all sizes

Small firms can take the lead on workplace wellness, Mississauga real estate and immigration lawyer Jia Junaid tells AdvocateDaily.com.

Junaid, principal of Atlas Law, says it’s great to see larger corporations doing their bit to reduce the stigma around mental health problems, but they shouldn’t be the only ones acting on the issue. That’s especially true in the legal profession, where the bulk of the industry is populated by lawyers at small firms, she adds.

“You see big corporate firms with wellness centres that aren’t as feasible for us. But what we can do is to recognize that this industry can take a big toll on lawyers and their staff. Large or small, firms should do what they can,” Junaid says.   

She recently instituted a mental health day policy at the firm, allowing all staff to take off up to two days a month, no questions asked.

“We’ve all probably felt overwhelmed at some point, and called work with a little lie about being sick, which can cause guilt and break down trust between employers and employees,” Junaid says.  

“It’s not common in the workplace that you can pick up the phone and say you need a break without any stigma attached, but we’re trying to change that.”  

There is no shortage of studies suggesting that mental health and addiction problems are prevalent in the legal profession.

“We are dealing with very complex issues that can have a huge impact on the lives of our clients, but it’s not very easy to go home and discuss what’s going on,” Junaid says.

However, it’s also important to remember that lawyers are not the only ones affected, she says. At Atlas Law, the firm’s law clerks are often under intense pressure due to its high-volume real estate practice.

“It can be wearing on them too, but they’re left out of all the commentary,” Junaid says. “I’ve been in roles as an articling student and a junior lawyer where I can remember what that feels like, and as a young employer, I need to honour and appreciate them.”

She hopes the new policy serves as a release valve to prevent problems further down the road.  

“If you have staff who are burnt out, they don’t work as effectively, and they make more errors, which can be disastrous for the law firm,” Junaid says. “Ultimately, if they leave, you’re going to spend thousands of dollars searching for and training someone new.

“But if you recognize how people work, and take proactive measures, you can do something to change those outcomes,” she adds.   

Junaid says concerns about misuse of programs like hers are typically overblown by employers.

“When you treat employees with respect and like adults, they take a lot more ownership over their own work,” she says. “If your employer shows that it cares about you, then you’re more likely to care about your employer. That shouldn’t be a novel concept, but sometimes it seems like it is.”  

Just a few months into the new scheme, Junaid says the firm is already reaping the rewards.

“Our clerks are happier, which means our clients are happier, and that is better for the whole business,” she says.

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