Most people do not need reminding that our lives, particularly our working lives, involve a great deal of stress. Over the last 20 or so years, armed with the wonders of modern technology, that stress seems to have been growing inexorably. The fact that we can be connected 24/7, that we can respond to work demands at any time of the day or night, at weekends or on holiday, has meant, for too many of us, the assumption that we should - or that others should.
We know that stress (and stress is not the same as pressure) means that we are less productive, less able to do our work, less able to think clearly. Add to the mix the sleep deprivation from which many of us suffer, and which, by the end of a working week, can leave us as incapacitated cognitively as if we went to the pub and had a few pints while on the way in on Friday morning, and the impact on all aspects of our lives, and our health, can be huge.
Some of the stress is unavoidable, a lot of it isn't. In October last year, three banks and nine law firms came together to sign the Mindful Business Charter, a commitment to working collaboratively together to change the way we work in order to work as productively and effectively as possible, while removing unnecessary stress. The Charter has four key pillars - openness and respect in our working together and discussing how most effectively to do that healthily and effectively, smarter use of email and meetings, respecting rest periods and delegating mindfully.
The organisations that signed in October were Barclays, Lloyds Bank, RBS, Addleshaw Goddard, Pinsent Masons, Clifford Chance, Ashurst, Simmons and Simmons, Eversheds Sutherland, Norton Rose Fulbright, Baker McKenzie and Hogan Lovells.
What differentiates the Charter from other initiatives is its collaborative nature - client and supplier (thus far law firms) working together to change the way they work, and law firms working together as a profession to change the way they work with each other.
It is not a slackers charter. No-one could seriously look at that list of signatories and accuse any one of them of being slackers. It is about recognising the high pressure, complex and challenging nature of the work we do and looking to be able to do it as effectively and productively as possible.
We have been honoured to be involved with the further development of the Charter since that first signing in October and it was a huge pleasure to be able to hold a further signing event on Thursday 9 May, kindly hosted by Eversheds Sutherland, at which nine further firms signed their commitment to the Charter: Capsticks, CMS, DWF, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, Michelmores, Osborne Clark, Stone King and Weightmans. None of them are slackers either.
On the eve of Mental Health Awareness Week, it is fantastic to see this broader commitment to go beyond raising awareness, and to start tackling some of the causes of the stress we all experience. It is a journey. None of the organisations listed has got it all sorted, or has all the answers, but they have each committed to trying, to starting the journey, to asking the difficult questions, to being brave and to sharing their learning and understanding with each other along the way.
So far the Charter has focussed on the legal profession but there is absolutely no reason for it to remain so - the issues it seeks to address, and the solutions it proposes, are applicable across business. We would love to hear from any organisations keen to learn more about the Charter. In the meantime well done and thank you to those already on board - I think you can be proud as well as being brave!