Increasingly, business leaders understand that a workforce's mental wellbeing is fundamental to a business's wellbeing.
For Ron Davison, managing director of Gamlins Law in north Wales, an intuitive understanding of that fact, viewed from a very personal perspective, has seen the firm develop industry-leading mental health support for its staff at offices across the region.
Gamlins Law has been supported through Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme (AGP). The AGP provides targeted support for ambitious growing firms. The programme is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.
Here, Ron Davison shares his personal story and explains how he has deliberately placed staff mental health front and centre at Gamlins Law.
Firstly, tell us about Gamlins Law?
We're a leading law firm based all across north Wales and committed to providing excellent, affordable advice to corporate and private clients. Because the language and culture of Wales are very important to us, we offer a fully bilingual service and a full range of legal services.
Since I became Managing Director, I've focused on more than just the day-to-day operational matters in our firm; I've made it my priority to nurture and improve the mental wellbeing of our staff. As the leader of a law firm, I'd be a fool to believe that the 100 or so people in our team do not struggle at times to cope with challenges - not only those related to practicing the law but in everyday life.
I fundamentally believe that in the right environment, people can be empowered to cope with such demands in healthier ways. When people are helped to build resilience (with the right support), they become increasingly able to navigate tough times and can ultimately flourish in all areas of their life.
Creating the conditions for that to happen is, I believe, the key to business success. So I've committed to my team always to be open and honest and treat them respectfully. I cannot ignore the fact that people face challenges with their mental health. So together, we are committed to creating an environment that promotes individual wellbeing and our mutual success.
What are your proudest moments in business so far?
I'm proud that we have been able to change our working environment and create a positive, nourishing environment for our staff. We have worked hard to make Gamlins a safe space which does not diminish the importance of mental wellbeing. In fact, we actively encourage people to talk openly and honestly. And we strive to provide the proper support and help for team members who need it, whatever their seniority and length of service.
What challenges have you faced in business
When I joined Gamlins the working environment lacked openness and support. Instead, it could feel aggressive and competitive at times. Anxiety and depression were treated as dirty words, almost synonymous with weakness. However, I knew that if I had the opportunity to lead this business, I wanted to deal with these issues and treat people compassionately.
I was confident that my approach would succeed based on my experience in the workplace. Before I became Managing Director, positive feedback was crucial to how I felt about myself and my job. If I were provided with support, praise or even constructive criticism, I'd feel 7ft tall and proud of my firm, my team and – most importantly - myself. As a result, my work would improve, and I would be more efficient and productive. I was happier, and work became more enjoyable. The benefit to the firm and me was mutual – and glaringly apparent.
My own experience with mental health coloured a difficult time for me at work. That experience shaped my drive to help others by putting mental wellbeing at the centre of our corporate culture if I was ever given a chance.
That chance came in 2015 when I became the Managing Director of Gamlins Law. My goal was to create a safe, nurturing environment that managed risk and created the conditions for our people to flourish.
There is no easy solution to this challenge – but perhaps the most important thing as a leader is to be approachable and honest about your vulnerabilities. My door is always open to whoever wants to come and chat. I believe such openness has helped the wider Gamlins Law family. As a result, we've taken several positive steps and now provide a much more comprehensive range of support to our staff.
For example, we provide access to counselling and now provide everyone with access to Everymind, which offers interactive webinars, a wellbeing app and training workshops. This has been invaluable in helping team members take ownership of their mental health, particularly during the pandemic. It's also helped drive awareness and education throughout the firm.
We have a vibrant social calendar and encourage our staff to engage with community initiatives that are important to them with our full support. We also measure mental health in our team to track trends and address issues as they arise.
We have four qualified mental health first aiders, including myself, and recently our new pilates classes have proved hugely popular.
What is important to me is openness, honesty and a promise that we will stand up to accepted norms in the legal sector and create a law firm that we are all truly proud to represent. I am proud of helping many of my staff cope with difficult times in their lives, and I can see the difference a supportive leader makes to people at their lowest ebb.
We monitor staff turnover and are delighted that our retention figures continue to improve. Sick days are also closely managed, and we continue to see positive results in this area.
It's been a long journey and such a worthwhile one. I firmly believe that if businesses in the legal sector took a more enlightened, proactive approach to staff wellbeing, we would see less burnout and lower staff turnover. Ultimately, we would have happier people on our payrolls – and isn't that worth the effort?
If you were starting again, what would you do differently?
We've been open to change since I became Managing Director, and I think with that openness comes an acknowledgement that we can continually review decisions made in the past. There's always room for improvement, and to change isn't to admit failure – it's to adapt to new and emerging information. The systems and policies which have underpinned a business' working practices and culture can always be revisited, redesigned or even scrapped. That's a mature and self-reflective way of working, which I think is very important when making business decisions.
How has support from Business Wales AGP helped your business?
The Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme has provided a wide range of support in our journey, all of which have been hugely helpful in our evolution. It's been beneficial to lean on experienced business experts in all fields as we have focused on transforming our culture.
What advice and guidance would you give other businesses starting out?
- Put staff at the heart of your operation. They are the core of everything you do, so their wellbeing should be central to your thinking.
- Be the change you want to see. If you want to effect change, you can make it happen. Leading a law firm, or any business for that matter, is a privilege – make it count.
- Bring your staff with you. If you want to change the workplace culture, you have to bring people with you. You can't impose change on people effectively from the top.
To learn more about Gamlins Law, visit here.
Further information on the Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme
The Business Wales Accelerated Growth Programme is a pan-Wales programme part funded by the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.