Nicole Vernon, Amena Asmar, David Rose, and Tamara Smith
Safety, Health and Wellbeing Team at Legal Aid NSW
Elevator pitch: Tell us about your role and the work your organisation does
Legal Aid NSW is a state-wide organisation providing legal services to socially and economically disadvantaged people across NSW. We are the largest Legal Aid commission in Australia and employ over 1,400 staff. We deliver legal services in most areas of criminal, family and civil law.
What’s the current focus for you and your organisation in workplace health and wellbeing?
In July 2021 we launched our Mentally Healthy Workplace (MHW) Policy followed by the framework and guide showing our commitment to establishing, promoting, and maintaining a workplace that fully values the mental health and wellbeing of staff and actively ensures that our staff are safe and well.
To support the Policy release, psychosocial risk workshops were coordinated with each Division to look at MHW factors and develop Divisional psychosocial risk assessments listing hazards, risk and controls. From these workshops it identified four key workplace factors of focus, specifically emotional demands, work related violence and aggression, work demands and social supports.
Project highlights from the key areas of focus include:
- Development of vicarious trauma package of works.
- Supporting and managing mental health in the workplace through development of eLearning for both managers and employees and enhancing our connect to support guide.
- Organisational WellCheck trial across the organisation
- Addressing work related violence and aggression prevention through development of a Policy, eLearning in unreasonable client conduct to support the organisational Policy and Guidelines
- Promoting social support through expanding the peer-to-peer framework to be a social support framework with initial concept approved by the CEO before promotion across the organisation and development of a peer-to-peer informal support debriefing guide
What aspect of workplace health and wellbeing does your organisation do well in?
We have a holistic health and wellbeing program called beingWell which focuses on Health and Safety; Wellbeing; Flexibility; EngAge and Recovery at Work.
Our staff are very good at peer to peer support and being aware of the hazards and risks that they may be exposed to. They actively participate in health and safety initiatives through our working parties such as vicarious trauma and employee file trauma tracker, contributing to improve our proactive initiatives and supports.
What’s your biggest challenge working in workplace health and wellbeing?
Being a small team supporting approximately 1400 employees the biggest challenge is providing support to managers, staff and our HR colleagues in Wellbeing, health and safety practices and advice whilst working on projects that are evidence informed and best practice.
It is also a challenge in influencing a legal culture shift to embrace proactive health and safety support and embedding tools and resources in a time poor work environment.
What do you feel are the key issues and considerations for people working in this sector?
Being a Legal Sector and a Public Sector Agency, the top key considerations would be the impact from the work our client facing roles engage in and mitigating risk relating to work demands, emotional demands and work related violence and aggression.
What do you think the future of workplace health and wellbeing looks like?
In the Legal Sector there has been case law relating to vicarious trauma that has created a spotlight on the need to ensure psychologically safe workplaces with a focus on prevention and early intervention.
Its rewarding to see the journey we started has aligned with the community and legislative expectations with the importance of psychological health and safety being acknowledged. This has helped to further our influence and advocate for positive change in creating the mentally healthy workplace we all want to work in.
In addition, as we continue to all work flexibly within a hybrid model, coming out of a tumultuous couple of years with COVID-19 in the community, and our workplaces shifting rapidly to accommodate risk, the positive and negative aspects of working in a hybrid model and longer term impacts on staff and the workplace will start to come to light.
What are your key practices and priorities for your own wellbeing at work? What about your team’s?
The team are very good at staying connected and supporting each other. On an individual basis the team recommend:
Nicole – I believe in self-care and self-reflection. I ensure there a clear boundaries between my work and home roles and have worked hard to ensure this is maintained while working in a hybrid model of working in the office and working from home. In being able to support our staff we have to prioritise ourselves first and regularly quote in an aeroplane they advise you to put on your own oxygen mask before you assist others with theirs…
Amena – Work hard, but play hard – by investing in your personal goals and time, just as you would with professional life. Most importantly, hold yourself accountable to this – it will compel you to achieve the balance you are after.
Tamara – I make sure I take a break whether I’m in the office or working from home and go outside and get some fresh air, helping me to reset for the rest of the day. I keep connected with my colleagues when we aren’t in the office and when working from home I find physically closing the laptop helps to signify the end of the working day.
David – I believe in the mind-body connection. With that outlook I look to maintain my physical fitness to proactively help my mental health & wellbeing at work. I make sure I stay connected to my team and work colleagues each day while we adapt to the flexible working model as part of a new work environment. I advocate that everyone has that one thing that resets your karma, for me it’s the surf that clears my mind and recharges my batteries.
How does WayAhead Workplaces bring value to your organisation’s work, and to yourself as a professional?
It provides a network of professionals sharing lessons learnt and best practice, so you never have to start from scratch, and you never have to feel alone in your workplace Health and Safety journey.