Clifford Chance hires first-ever global 'head of wellbeing' from Aon in London
Charles Alberts will create and lead the firm's wellbeing strategy and consult on mental health and general staff welfare concerns
Clifford Chance (CC) has hired consultant Charles Alberts from insurance giant Aon as its first global head of wellbeing and employee experience.
Alberts, who will be based in CC’s London headquarters, spent a decade at Aon, including four as head of the firm’s workplace wellbeing solutions practice. Before that he chaired Aon’s mental health group and served as a senior health, risk and wellbeing consultant.
As the first person to take on the non-executive role, Alberts will be tasked with creating and leading CC’s first global wellbeing strategy. The strategy will cover points of interaction at every stage between employees and the firm, including recruitment, training and promotions. The strategy will not be limited to lawyers and will encompass other professionals employed at Clifford Chance including business directors and admin support staff.
The firm said a primary aim of the strategy will be to maximise support at every step of employment and ensure a consistent approach to staff welfare across all of Clifford Chance's international offices.
Alberts commented: “Over the last five years I have seen first-hand that a targeted and proactive approach to wellbeing and employee experience can yield great results for every level of an organisation. Protecting and enhancing employee wellbeing and creating positive experiences has never been more important in the rapidly evolving world of work.”
The appointment will see Alberts work closely with Grant Elred, the firm’s chief people officer, as well as Chinwe Odimba-Chapman, CC’s global partner for talent.
Elred said the creation of Alberts’ role was in response to the changing responsibilities associated with being an employer, a shift that has been observed by many law firms particularly during the pandemic.
“Supportive leadership is not just about talking to our people but about listening too, and Charles' skills and expertise will strengthen our capabilities in this area,” he said.
The importance of law firms working to support lawyers’ mental health is underscored by numerous studies that have found they have higher rates of mental ill health and substance misuse than the general population. A report published last year by lawyer wellbeing charity LawCare found that the majority (69%) of its 1,700 respondents had experienced poor mental health in the year prior to the study, with the most common symptoms including anxiety, low mood and depression.
Another study by the IBA found that a worryingly high proportion (41%) of the 3,000 legal professionals who took part would not discuss their mental health with their employer. Just less than a third (32%) said this was due to concerns they would be treated differently if they spoke out, 24% felt their employer didn’t sufficiently recognise mental wellbeing issues and 17% said that they feared not being believed or taken seriously.
In February, the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) tuned into the conversation by issuing new guidance for law firms looking to promote more positive working environments in England and Wales. The study found that while the majority of respondents felt positively about their work environments, there was still progress to be made with regards to issues like systematic bullying, discrimination and mental health. Other areas of concern ranged from an overemphasis on targets and ‘wholly unreasonable’ workloads to abuses of authority by senior staff going unchecked by the firm and firms pressuring staff to withdraw any lodged complaints.
The review also highlighted the role prioritising employee wellbeing can play in benefiting a firm’s bottom line by lowering staff turnover and recruitment costs, appearing more attractive to prospective talent and improving client experiences.
Some firms have turned to technology to try and help lawyers manage their wellbeing during the work week. Last year, Linklaters rolled out an app in partnership with BetterSpace aimed at providing accessible and sustainable tools for its UK employees to best look after their mental health. Similar apps are offered by UK rivals Slaughter and May, Taylor Wessing and Eversheds Sutherland.