1. What are the Guidelines?

The Guidelines are a free and comprehensive set of resources designed to protect and promote psychological health and safety in the legal workplace. The Guidelines allow employers to effectively assess and address the 13 Psychosocial Factors known to have a powerful impact on organisational health, the health of individual employees, and the financial bottom line. By utilising the Guidelines to shape your organisaton’s policies, processes, structure and culture, you will work towards a psychologically healthy workplace which is good for your people and good for your businesss.

The Guidelines are based on research conducted by the Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health and Addiction (CARMHA) within the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University on the basis of extensive research, including data analysis of a national sample and reviews of national and international best practices. The relevant research conducted and utilised by CARMA includes:

Shain, M., Arnold, I. & GermAnn, K. (2012) The Road to Psychological Safety: Legal, Scientific, and Social Foundations for a Canadian national Standard on Psychological Safety in the Workplace. In Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, 32 (2) 142-162, SAGE Publications. DOI: 1177/0270467612455737. The Canadian Standard (CAN/CSA-Z1003-13/BNQ 9700-803/2013 Standard) is available at https://shop.csa.ca/en/canada/occupational-health-and-safety-management/cancsa-z1003-13bnq-9700-8032013/invt/z10032013

Shain, M. (1999). Stress and satisfaction. In OH & S Canada, 15, 3.

Shain, M. (2000). The fairness connection. In OH & S Canada, 16, 4.

2. How do I access the Guidelines?

The Guidelines are freely available here.

3. Why were the Guidelines developed?

In January 2009, the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Institute released the ‘Courting the Blues’ report. The report, written by Doctors Norm Kelk, Georgina Luscombe and Sharon Medlow, together with Professor Ian Hickie, involved a comprehensive study of  law students and lawyers from across the country. This study examined the experiences and attitudes of lawyers and law students towards mental ill health and showed that more than 1 in 4 barristers, more than 1 in 3 solicitors and almost half of all law students are at a high or very high risk of suffering from a diagnosable mental illness.

Kelk, NJ, Luscombe, GM, Medlow, S, Hickie, IB (2009) Courting the blues: Attitudes towards depression in Australian law students and lawyers, BMRI Monograph 2009-1, Sydney: Brain & Mind Research Institute.

While resources related to physical health and safety are readily available in most workplaces, unfortunately there are very few resources available to help protect psychological health and safety. These Guidelines were developed to help fill that gap.

All managers need to effectively assess psychological health and safety in their workplace, undertake appropriate interventions, and measure the effectiveness of their actions. It answers the questions “Where do we begin?” and “Where can we best use our limited resources?”.

4. Why is the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation (TJMF) rolling out the Guidelines?

TJMF aims to ‘Raise the Standard’ of psychological support in legal workplaces through the newly launched TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession.

5. What are Psychosocial Factors?

Psychosocial factors are elements that impact employees’ psychological responses to work and work conditions, potentially causing psychological health problems. Psychosocial factors include the way work is carried out (deadlines, workload, work methods) and the context in which work occurs (including relationships and interactions with managers and supervisors, colleagues and co-workers, and clients).

6. How were the 13 Psychosocial Factors in the Guidelines determined?

The 13 Psychosocial Factors were determined via a Grounded Theory approach, which involved a thorough review of relevant literature and extensive consultation with Canadian employers, unions and employees. This included the following steps:

  • Review of the scientific literature pertaining to workplace mental health.
  • Review of relevant Canadian regulatory and case law pertaining to the workplace and psychological safety.
  • Formation of an advisory committee which provided input on each step of the development of the Guidelines. The committee consisted of representatives from the mental health, scientific, union, occupational health and employer communities.
  • Consultation with experts in workplace mental health from countries and jurisdictions with well-developed workplace psychosocial risk assessment resources.
  • Implementation of focus groups across Canada with key stakeholders – legal professionals, union representatives, small and large employers, employees and researchers – to provide input into the description and relevance of the psychosocial factors.
  • Implementation of a national survey amongst a diverse array of informants to gain input into the description and sample questions for each of the 13 Psychosocial Factors.

7. What is a psychologically healthy and safe workplace?

A psychologically healthy and safe workplace is one that promotes employees’ psychological wellbeing and actively works to prevent harm to employee psychological health due to negligent, reckless or intentional acts.

8. What are some indicators of a psychologically unhealthy and/or unsafe work environment?

The failure to adequately address psychosocial hazards at work is apparent in the escalation of disability claims based on depression or ”stress”, increased reports of workplace conflict, and decreased levels of job satisfaction, health and commitment. These, in turn, lead to reduced performance, higher turnover, increased costs and compromised safety. If they are not dealt with appropriately, the net result may well be loss of customers, productivity and valued employees. On the other hand, proper awareness and attention to ensuring the psychological health of staff will yield enhanced employee engagement and wellbeing and organisational effectiveness and sustainability.

9. Employee well-being is fine, but what about the bottom line. Are the Guidelines good for business?

Absolutely. Psychologically healthy employees are more productive and have significantly lower absenteeism and disability rates. The economic impact of mental health problems on business is estimated at tens of billions of dollars annually, due to lost productivity, accidents/injuries, and short and long-term disability rates. The goal of the Guidelines is to minimize such impacts on an organisation. You can implement the Guidelines with full confidence that you are not only supporting the health and wellbeing of employees but also helping to ensure a thriving and profitable enterprise. This is especially true during difficult economic times when the financial impacts of absenteeism, disability, or legal/regulatory sanctions are more difficult to absorb.

10. Aren’t these Guidelines just for the large firms to implement?

No. The Guidelines have been designed to cater for all parts of the legal profession. They are relevant for the sole practitioner right through to large law firms, Community Legal Centres, barristers’ and judges chambers, government and in-house legal departments, law schools and legal organisations.

11. Who can sign up to the Guidelines?

All organisations now have the opportunity to sign up to the Guidelines through the TJMF website. In return, signatories will be able to display a special TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession logo and advertise themselves as a signatory.

12. How big is the commitment for my organisation? What will we be judged on and does this create any issues for us if we are deficient in areas and will take time to improve?

The Guidelines are a helpful way to focus efforts on achieving positive psychological health outcomes within legal workplaces. TJMF recognises that it may take time for organisations to plan and introduce initiatives, and organisations can do as little or as much as they feel comfortable with.

13. Must I sign up to the Guidelines? Is it the only way?

No. The Guidelines are just one way that may help you and your organisation. There is no problem or issue with not signing up, although participating in the Guidelines is a good public demonstration of your organisation’s commitment to employees’ psychological health.

TJMF supports any effort, large or small, which is aimed at the continuous improvement of psychological wellbeing within legal workplaces.

14. Are the Guidelines meant to be a one size fits all?

The Guidelines are structured around 13 Psychosocial Factors that should be in place in any organisation committed to the psychological health of its staff. For each psychosocial factor, a range of practices are recommended, from Basic, to Standard, Advanced, and Best Practice.

How much or how little an organisation does is up to that workplace. There are no requirements to be met and the Guidelines serve as a resource to assist organisations in planning initiatives.

15. Do you need to pass any test? Are there prerequisites?

There are no barriers to signing up to the Guidelines, and TJMF welcomes all legal organisations that are committed to achieving positive psychological health outcomes in the workplace.

16. Will the goal posts move from year to year?

No. The Guidelines will remain unchanged; however additional information and resources will be added.

17. What will happen if we don’t comply?

Organisations will not be forced to comply with the Guidelines.  They are a tool for use by leaders throughout the profession to support their organisations and employees.  How much or how little you comply with the Guidelines is up to you.

18. Can I pick and choose from the Guidelines?

Yes. Any positive step forward is encouraged, big or small.

19. Are there reporting requirements and/or compliance through an audit etc?

No. The Foundation is encouraging legal organisations to take the first steps towards improving their workplaces.  We will work with your organisation to implement the Guidelines and, in future years, the Foundation will work with signatories to discuss how best to monitor progress toward each organisation’s goals.

20. How much does it cost to access/sign up to the Guidelines?

There is no cost. The Guidelines are freely accessible on the Foundation’s website and organisations can apply to become signatories online at no cost. Simply head here to access the Guidelines and to sign up!

21. How can I trust the Guidelines are sound? What makes them credible?

The Guidelines are based on the combined research efforts of the Canadian Standards Association, the Bureau de Normalisation du Québec, and the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

The Guidelines are designed to assist employers in the legal sector to achieve the objective of decreasing psychological distress, disability and the causes of depression and anxiety.

22. Are these standards that must be met?

No. They are Guidelines which offer a useful framework for your workplace.

They can be adapted to different circumstances and help to identify areas for improvement.

23. Does this effect WHS compliance?

No. Workplaces have obligations under WHS law to address risks to their staff’s health and safety. The Guidelines are a tool to help organisations better address those issues.

TJMF Psychological Wellbeing: Best Practice Guidelines for the Legal Profession