Making Work, Work

As the U.S. prepares to celebrate Thanksgiving this week, taking the day to stop and give thanks for the good things and people in their lives, we started thinking about how to be more thankful on a regular basis. All too often, gratitude falls by the wayside, as we inevitably focus more on the things we don’t yet have and the obstacles and challenges that inevitably come our way in life and work.

There is a lot to be said for making gratitude a regular part of our mental exercise. So much so, that the practice of writing a gratitude list or journal is becoming increasingly popular.

A gratitude list can be a very useful tool for professionals – it can help boost resilience in the face of adversity, reminding us that these things too shall pass and are part and parcel of the path to growth and happiness. It can also be a productive way of working out solutions to ongoing problems and dissatisfaction in our lives.

The most appealing thing about a gratitude list is that unlike some self-care trends, it focuses your attention outside of yourself. By thinking of the actions of others that you are grateful for, you become more aware of how your own actions can impact on others, and think about how to return the favour to those who have offered support, a kind word, a laugh or a happy distraction at stressful times.

Being able to feel and express gratitude are also good leadership skills. According to former lawyer and church pastor Carey Nieuhof, gratitude fuels a better attitude to work, making us want to maximise the opportunities we feel so fortunate to have been made available to us, instead of wasting time begrudging what we feel we are owed. Gratitude also makes us more naturally encouraging and attractive to be around, and helps us to see even more opportunities with an ‘abundance mentality’.

Where to Start

The first step to starting your gratitude list is let go of any guilt you might feel about not always acknowledging the good things in life the way you might have wanted. Everyday gratitude isn’t something that always comes naturally to many people, you are not unusual in this, and that is the reason why you are starting the list.

Next, buy a notepad, and choose it carefully – you want it to feel special and important. If you prefer digital alternatives, you can set up a personal Trello board, which enables you to make notes and add attachments to notes you have made that remind you to take action to thank a person or send a gift. Plus, if you use Trello for other projects it might be beneficial to have it in the same place to encourage you to update it.

Journey is another app useful for journaling and personal notes-to-self. With a focus on simplicity and seamlessness, it can be used across multiple devices so you can jot down your thoughts on whatever device is closest to hand and add relevant images, and automatically adds info on the weather and location at time of the input. You can also easily search back through posts using tags or calendar filters and share selected entries with other people, should you wish.

To embed the habit of noting the things you are grateful for, there are various suggestions on ways to encourage the behaviour. Some people create a ritual, setting aside a certain amount of time and always doing it in the same place and under the same conditions e.g. in bed with a warm drink. It’s not always practical in a busy working day to do this, and with little headspace it is often better to jot something down in an app immediately after it happened, giving you the opportunity to return to it later to add more details on reflection.

The SmartTribes Institute has a Gratitude Practice, which may be useful to help focus the mind:

  1. Close your eyes.
  2. Focus on one thing in your life you are grateful for at this moment
  3. Offer a silent thank you to that person/for that thing
  4. Relax into that feeling of gratitude
  5. Take a deep breath
  6. Go forward feeling more gratitude

What to Include in Your Gratitude List

If you are unsure how to structure your list, a quick Google will find plenty of templates available. Typically, entries are kept short with bullet points outlining what happened, who was involved and why you were thankful for it.

Another way to manage your list is to divide it into categories. You don’t have to fill in each category every time. Some example headings could include:

The Personal – Features and instances from your home and family life, social circle, and individual activities you are grateful you get to do.

The Professional –  Everything and anything to do with work – opportunities, colleagues, work location, even the good office chair…

The Bigger Picture – things that don’t fall into a particular category or aren’t linked to a particular instance or event, but impact your life all the same e.g. being grateful for peace, for stable climate, for rights and freedoms.

Keep it Going

Try to make an entry every day – weekly at the minimum. The more regularly you do it the habit forming it will be. Though your gratitude list will be a mainly personal endeavour, it may be beneficial to share some details of what you are doing with others, as they will be interested to hear how it is working for you and offer their feedback, which will reinforce your commitment to the task.

Happy listing!

With the Christmas holidays just around the corner, now is a good time to start jotting down the things you have been thankful for. We’d love to hear what would be on your gratitude list for 2018 – let us know @ObeliskSupport.

 

Making Work, WorkObelisk In Action

As part of our Wednesday Live series at Obelisk Support, we hosted Graham Ellis, Assistant Commissioner at the London Fire Brigade, and Verona Clarke, Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade. Both shared precious insights on how their teams anticipate and react to crisis situations.

The population of London is estimated at 8.8 million spread out over 607 square miles, with 300 languages spoken and in 2016, welcomed 31.5 million visitors. To keep all these people safe, the London Fire Brigade (LFB) is the busiest fire department in the UK and one of the busiest in the world, operating with a yearly budget of £382 million. No law firm, however big, can claim to watch the back of that many clients with so many shifting parameters. But as we deal with our own daily ‘firefights’, here are 6 leadership lessons all lawyers will be able to relate to…

#1 Prepare For the Impossible

The London Fire Brigade’s norm is to prepare for the unexpected.

In a toxic paradox, firefighters have to learn to adapt in difficult situations in real time and with ever-decreasing staff and resources. By far their best weapon to avert risk is prevention. As part of its fire prevention campaign, the LFB carries out 80,000 home fire safety visits every year. Since 9/11, the LFB has created an Urban Search & Rescue team that covers victims of urban catastrophes. There is a plan for the event of a meteorite falling on Earth. As you can see, the LFB makes its set of responses very flexible but preparation without communication would be pointless.

The Legal Angle

As GDPR recently showed, you can never be ready for every scenario but you can certainly have response mechanisms that kick in when emergency strikes. In fact, lawyers have long played a key role in helping clients to understand and mitigate risk which means that they’ve had to adapt over time to keep up with the evolution of risks. A recent study showed that over 80% of lawyers said that risks are formally reviewed at least every six months. Is 6 months enough? Is your law firm even doing that?

From cyber security to industry compliance or legal exposure, a good risk management policy starts with an audit. If you don’t know where you’re starting from, you can’t set up preventive measures and that’s step 1 of managing any type of risk (also less expensive and stressful than dealing with a bad situation). Read these 5 Steps to Legal Risk Management and start planning for your legal meteorite. Then you can move on with your communication strategy – because risk management is a business-wide concern.

#2 Cooperate with Other Teams

The LFB wouldn’t be able to do its job without other agencies such as the police, government agencies or even the public. How do you alert the LFB to an act of terror if you’re witnessing one or seeing something that’s off? The LFB’s primary response to disasters is prevention via public awareness campaigns and relies on the cooperation of other parties to be efficient.

In the case of an emergency, who you gonna call?

999. Write it down, just in case. It’s the UK number for emergencies. Please call it before filming to stream live on Facebook or Twitter.

The Legal Angle

It used to be that legal teams operated as stand-alone satellites in big companies, checking in at senior level and dealing with documents that were mysterious and scary to all other departments. Today, legal departments are often part of their company’s business strategy and understand what they need to do to get deals done.

#3 Embrace Diversity in Your Teams

At the end of the 1980s, the LFB employed 9,000 people, including 20 women and 80 BAME. As of 2018, the numbers have significantly shifted. The LFB employs 4,611 people, including 333 women and 606 BAME. That’s one fifth of the workforce today versus less than 1%. The LFB is working on a recruitment campaign to improve their diversity numbers and to offer not only flexible work options, but to retain minority and female staff by rethinking the promotion process. Recognising that they are a public-facing agency, the LFB strives to improve their diversity numbers both in offices and in operational teams.

By having greater diversity in their teams, the LFB gets a collective of opinions that helps them get stronger and communicate better in a modern world.  They need to engage with communities whose first language might not be English. Verona Clarke of the LFB does a lot of presentations at schools to show that the LFB represents the community, that women can be firefighters too. In her words, “the LFB needs the best of the best but it also needs diversity, the multilingual people who look and feel like everyone else.” That is true diversity.

Listen to Verona Clarke explain what it means to be seen and be in her job.

The Legal Angle

In many ways, the London Fire Brigade is way ahead of the legal profession on this aspect. The Attic and Obelisk Support stands in favour of diversity and regularly denounce how the legal industry has a major diversity issue. As the Solicitors Regulation Authority reports, women make up 48% of all lawyers in law firms and 47% of the UK workforce but in 2017, women made up 59% of non-partner solicitors compared to just 33% of partners or in the largest firms (50 plus partners), only 29% of partners are female. That’s only one aspect of the progress that needs to happen in the legal profession, with gender pay gaps in law firms at an all-time high, lack of diversity in executive boards and unequal rights for LGBTQ lawyers.

How do you make things better?

First, believe in diversity and inclusion. Firms that offer an inclusive environment for a diverse mix for employees stand to innovate, grow and outperform the competition. Businesses with a healthy balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform their competitors, while those with employees from a good mix of ethnic backgrounds are 35% more likely, claims research by McKinsey & Co. You can start by taking 5 steps to empower women in law and by listening to the voice of those missing in your organisation. Since diversity is good for business, why wait?

#4 Take Care of Your Physical Health

A lot of firefighters’ time is done training, responding to emergencies and learning standard operating procedures to stay safe. However, they operate in particularly dangerous places and it’s impossible for them to avoid compromising their physical health. Indeed, firefighters are 200% more likely than the average population to contract types of cancer and they work in a lot of environments that they cannot control with hazardous materials.

That said, the physical training of firefighters is one of the most demanding in the world and if you want to get an idea of the strength and fitness tests, WorkingMums has an interesting piece on whether a career in the London Fire Brigade is for you.

The Legal Angle

That brings us to lawyers, whose only physical test is being able to operate a computer. Safe to say, the two biggest threats to the physical health of lawyers are chairs and take-out meals. For one, sitting for lengthy periods is terrible for your body. Aches and pains are the least of your problems — sitting too much can lead to an early death. You face a higher risk of muscular-skeletal disorders, obesity, diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and more, even if you work out regularly.

On the nutrition front, things aren’t all pink either. A 2016 study sponsored by the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation surveying nearly 13,000 currently practicing attorneys found that 21-36% of lawyers qualify as problem drinkers. As reported on The Attic in Why Lawyers Should Take a Proper Healthy Lunch Break, the legal industry is one of the worst culprits for late in the day take-out food orders at the office, with a huge 81% of orders placed at dinner time and an average order time of 8:44pm. Neither poor nutrition nor the lack of exercise contribute to a healthy lifestyle.

Currently, fit lawyers like The Lean Lawyer, Backwards Guy or David Jones are the exception but they are an inspiration too and the legal profession needs more of them so we all get off our chairs and get our heart pumping. As Nike says, just do it!

#5 Take Care of Your Mental Health

The other part of firefighters’ health is mental health and the post-workshop Q&A discussed the notion of resilience. For many firefighters, resilience is making do with a bad situation. Elina Grigoriou of Grigoriou Interiors, who was in the audience, expressed resilience as “bringing your head above water, not standing above water.” She wondered what Graham Ellis did to keep his own teams resilient.

After seeing the response of colleagues to trauma over many years, Graham Ellis recalled the Soho pub bombing. Some of the people who were the most badly affected then were not the younger recruits but the ones who had seen it all before and had years of emergency preparedness. In modern days, fewer people are exposed to more and more traumatic events, the last drop goes into the bucket and the bucket starts to overflow.

Mental resilience for firefighters is training for disasters, follow-up public inquests, debriefing and follow-up actions. In the 1980s, Ann Willmott built an Advisory and Counseling Team for the LFB that was groundbreaking and involved working with psychologists. Dany Cotton, LFB Commissioner, was at the Grenfell Tower Fire and saw first-hand the horrors and acts of selflessness that firefighters experienced. She went live on ITV to say that “it’s all right not to be all right,” which was the truth, plain and simple. These firefighters will never be the same, with many seeking professional help for their mental health.

The Legal Angle

As explained on The Attic by Elizabeth Rimmer, Chief Executive of LawCare in Lawyers – Your Mental Health and Wellbeing Matter!, lawyers have higher rates of anxiety, depression and stress compared to other professions. It is the culture of the well-known poor work/life balance, the long hours and presenteeism, the competitive environment, the fear of failure and the driven and perfectionist personalities that can be drawn to law. All of this contributes to an environment that can make some people more vulnerable to mental health concerns.

Mental health is a very important and unspoken part of the life of legal professionals that’s still taboo in many firms. If you’re not feeling right, you need to get professional help right now. Don’t delay and don’t underestimate how it could impact your life. Don’t wait until a drop makes the bucket overflow.

#6 Invest in Tech and Infrastructure

When Graham started working at the London Fire Brigade in 1983, firefighters wore rubber Wellington boots, yellow plastic trousers, heavy woolen tuniques and gardening gloves.

Protective equipment in 2018 is a far cry from 1980s standards and includes a full array of digital communications to assist with live interventions.

The Legal Angle

Likewise in the 1980s, lawyers worked with paper and pen, didn’t have computers, let alone mobile phones, and faxed 100-page long documents to clients for signature. Their biggest security risk was probably a fire destroying client files and firm archives and secretaries did all their admin tasks.

Today’s lawyers have become independent professionals who can work remotely with digital communication tools, people who rely on technology like everyone else and who have warmed to the idea of legaltech solutions such as smart contracts or artificial intelligence. It’s not Silicon Valley-level tech engagement just yet, but lawyers have definitely caught up with the 21st century and are working hard to get up to speed with their techie counterparts.

About Graham Ellis

As Assistant Commissioner, Graham also heads up London Fire Brigade’s Special Operations Group and London Resilience Team, responsible for the preparations, training, response and recovery to a range of natural and terrorist related threats, and for overseeing fire service operations across the Greater London area.

About Verona Clarke

Verona Clarke is an Operational Station Manager, Special Operations Group at the London Fire Brigade, she is responsible for the brigades response to large scale events such as New Years Eve Celebrations, London Marathon and many other events. Verona is a frequent speaker at schools and a diversity champion at the London Fire Brigade.