60-second interview with Kerry James

Kerry James, 11/4/2018

Kerry James is Head of Learning and Development at Burges Salmon LLP in Bristol. 

What does your firm or organisation do?

Burges Salmon is an independent law firm based in Bristol. Our Private Client & Wealth Structuring department serves UK and international families, business owners, entrepreneurs, family businesses, rural businesses and landed estates. We also advise private banks, wealth managers and advisors, and trust companies.

You will be speaking about stress prevention and management at the STEP EPP Spring Forum on 17 May. What will the audience be able to take away from your session?

The importance of creating a culture where people know that their efforts are valued, where they are encouraged to be the best they can be, and they are supported when life gets challenging.

How did you get interested in managing stress at work?

I have worked with high achievers throughout my career – students, lawyers, managers, leaders – and seen the pressures that work can bring, particularly when people do not recognise the danger signs, or ignore them. I’m convinced that burn-out can be avoided.

What would you say are the major causes?

VUCA – volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. They are all stressful and can be overwhelming. The causes include a 24/7 culture, and the pace of change.

What are the risks for employers which do not support their staff with mental health problems?

There is a lawyer’s answer to this one which I won’t attempt here!

Promoting the physical and mental well-being of your people will help your business, because highly-motivated, resilient, and happy individuals are more likely to be loyal and productive. If you neglect this, you’ll get employee disengagement, absenteeism, attrition and poor performance, and that’s not good for the bottom line.

What practical steps can an employer take to look after those suffering from stress?

Encourage your people to speak to each other and get to know each other better, so that they are able to spot changes in behaviour. Make sure people know what to do if they are unwell, or suspect a colleague is unwell, and ensure everyone knows where to go in the organisation for help and support.

What external resources are there?

There are many resources available and a lot of them are free. The key is to find your starting point, so attending a conference such as the STEP event will provide an overview of the issues. I can offer a few links:

What would be your top tip for employers wishing to reduce stress in the workplace?

Build well-being into your strategy for the business, and think individually and collectively about what it means in your organisation. Ask your people, and encourage them to speak to each other. Use that knowledge to identify your priorities. Demonstrate genuine buy-in from the top, and empower others to drive change. Help your people learn how to improve their physical and mental health, and understand the relationship between the two.

Kerry James is Head of Learning and Development at Burges Salmon. In the last few years, Burges Salmon has been nominated for a number of top awards. It has been Roll on Friday’s Firm of the Year for three years running and recently won the Happiest Workplace at the National Happiness Awards.