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12 May 2023 | Firm News | Article by Diane Brooks

Hugh James increases Mental Health First Aiders to support staff wellbeing

As a firm, we have announced greater access to mental health support network for employees, with an additional thirteen accredited Mental Health First Aiders trained this month across our largest UK offices.

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Ahead of Mental Health Awareness Week (from 15 May), eleven colleagues received their MHFA training at the award-winning 2 Central Square Cardiff offices, while two volunteers in the London City office and one in Manchester trained for accreditation from MHFA England.

The new cohort takes the total number of MHFA trained staff at Hugh James to seventeen. It is hoped that this number will quadruple, with colleagues in Southampton and Partners across the firm booked on training for later this year.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) is an internationally recognised programme designed to raise the profile of mental ill health to the level of physical ill health. Volunteers are trained to learn how to spot the signs and symptoms of mental ill health and provide help on a first aid basis. In the same way as learning physical first aid, MHFA teaches people how to recognise those crucial warning signs of mental ill health and feel confident to guide someone to appropriate support.

Di Brooks, Director of HR at Hugh James, explained: “Mental health first aiders are an investment in the wellbeing of our employees, and they are as important to us as our colleagues trained in physical first aid. What we’re hearing from our people, is that they feel the same, and we are delighted that so many have come forward for our first round of training, taking the total number to seventeen, with more to follow later this year.”

With 18 years’ experience heading up the leading Welsh law firm’s HR department, Di’s role is to ensure the firm has the correct policies and procedures in place to support its 660 staff across the UK. She recognises the importance of what the firm is doing to support employee wellbeing all-year-round, adding:

“By increasing the number of mental health first aiders, we’re creating a culture where people feel comfortable talking about mental health. We must do what we can to normalise conversations around mental health and create opportunities to raise awareness and show our employees how we can support them.”

“Welcoming employees from all levels and locations, we host two virtual “Time to Talk” sessions per year. These are a chance for people to take time out of their work, grab a cuppa and discuss topics such as anxiety and depression with their peers. They are a popular event in the calendar, where colleagues embrace sharing experiences and tips about supporting yourself and one-another through life’s challenges.

“Similarly, we bring our colleagues together on a range of topics related to life events. Just last week we supported Dying Matters Week, an opportunity to open conversations around death and dying and have conversations with our colleagues, friends and family to help reduce the taboo of talking about death and provide a culture of openness and support for colleagues who may be experiencing grief and bereavement.

“Likewise, our recent menopause awareness sessions attracted record numbers. Following the introduction of our menopause policy, we engaged the services of Health & Her to run these events. Menopause is a natural part of every woman’s life, and it isn’t always an easy transition – and thus can directly affect mental health. With the right support, we can improve these experiences at work. We have since introduced the Health & Her app providing additional resources and support which can be accessed any time of day.

“The engagement we see from our Health Assured Employee Assistance programme, a 24-hour helpline for our staff and their families to support them through any life’s issues, shows us that our employees are benefitting from resources and support outside of our own dedicated HR team. We’re also using Yurtle to support staff with dependants and caregiving responsibilities, be that elder care, sick care, childcare or disability care. Through our partnership with Yurtle, employees can connect with other carers, utilise checklists, access care guides and corporate discounts.

Diane referenced the importance of training, as well as talking, in the workplace:

“We’ve got a fantastic Learning & Development team at Hugh James who, alongside work-based training, deliver skills sessions such as managing everyday stress, both in our personal and professional lives.

“The L&D team also support colleagues working with sensitive issues across our leading Clinical Negligence, Asbestos, Abuse and Military departments. The specialist teams work with clients who will have experienced loss; be it loss of a future due to a terminal illness, loss of independence due to a injury resulting in disability or loss of psychological wellbeing due to trauma and abuse. We work hard to foster a culture where people feel able to reach out for support if they are struggling with the emotional burden of their job.”

The HR team also ensures the correct policies are in place and under regular review. She added: “We have recently updated our policies in support bereaved employees, those with caring responsibilities and those affected by a life-changing diagnosis such as a life-limiting or terminal illness.”

She concluded: “At Hugh James, an inclusive culture is important to us. We want Hugh James to be a workplace where everyone can be themselves and everyone feels supported to reach their career potential. Our employee-led Diversity Equity and Inclusion groups are made up of volunteers who are passionate about driving a diverse, fair and inclusive culture. The groups create a forum where employees will learn from and support each other, develop new ideas, skills and knowledge.

“We also listen to our employees. Our EDI representatives may identify areas where the firm can improve its efforts and help to review our policies and workplace culture documents to make sure they speak to everyone, at every stage of their career. Their work in this area, and what they teach me, cannot be underestimated. We are now the largest Top 100 Law Firm based in Wales but our core values, and what makes Hugh James a great place to work, remains unchanged.”

Author bio

Diane Brooks

Human Resources Director

In her role as HR Director, Diane Brooks is responsible for the smooth operation of the firm’s HR department. This includes implementing HR strategies including talent acquisition, staffing, employee benefits, health and wellbeing, learning and development, succession planning, employee relations and retention.

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