By Tom Jarvis
Wellness is the state of being in good health and is typically split into four types: physical, emotional, spiritual, and social. Emotional and social health are often overlooked in favor of the physical and spiritual, even though nearly every aspect of health and well-being depend on them.
Social connection is essential to human beings. And the need for sociality doesn’t end once you arrive at work. Emotional health is just as important, as it helps you cope and maintain perspective and allows you to bounce back quicker from setbacks. A lack of either can lead to anxiety and depression. The World Health Organization estimates that anxiety and depression cost more than $1 trillion per year in lost productivity worldwide and that 200 million workdays are lost each year due to depression alone.
One endeavor that can greatly assist with both of these commonly disregarded facets of mental health is mentoring. It offers opportunities for people to connect and interact on a deeper level, and the relationship between mentor and mentee creates an atmosphere of psychological safety by helping to normalize workplace struggles and concerns.
The Mental Health Foundation recommends mentoring as an effective way to support mental health at work. They assert that “mentorship can be an important tool for fostering the kind of human interconnection that promotes employee well-being.”
Additionally, Mentalhealth.org lists mentoring as “a method of supporting mental health issues in the workplace, for both the mentor and the mentee.”
Former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice John Broderick says he would not have grown in the roll of a trial lawyer without his mentors, Mike McDonough and Matt Reynolds.
“Mike McDonough was more in the order of a confessor,” Broderick says. “Almost any time of day, Mike would always make time for me. It could be a simple question, or it could be more complex but [he] always made time and he always made you feel comfortable.”
Of his other mentor, Broderick says, “Matt Reynolds was the best strategic lawyer I ever knew. [He] could take an eight-inch file and he would tell you the four exhibits that mattered, the three witnesses that were going to decide the case, and then if there was some testimony at the trial, he’d tell you how important that would be for closing argument. He was gifted in that way.”
As his career progressed, Broderick eventually became a mentor himself.
“I followed the Matt Reynolds model,” he says of his mentoring days. “Matt taught me by bringing me with him and I learned from some gifted people who had nothing to do with my law firm. These are bright people, they graduated from law school. The difference is that I’m older and I have more experience, and I wanted them to see other lawyers. Every lawyer has their own style. The best way to mentor people is to expose them to other really good lawyers.”
Broderick was fortunate to have good mentors within his own firm, but how do you find or become a mentor if your firm doesn’t have its own program or if you’re looking for outside perspective?
The NHBA’s Mentor Advice Program (MAP) is a great member service that’s available to help. Celebrating it’s one-year anniversary this month, the MAP has successfully paired over 50 mentees and mentors to date.
It’s a voluntary six-month program (with the option of extending) wherein mentors and mentees are matched based on a variety of factors, including areas of practice, size and type of firm or other legal employer, specific preferences/concerns, and geographical location – keeping in mind that geographic location should not be a barrier for an otherwise excellent match.
Being paired with an experienced attorney that has no personal stake in your career can eliminate the fear of repercussion and help foster growth.
“Stupid questions stick with you,” Attorney Michael Salas says. “If you’re asking a question of a senior partner or a senior associate, it sticks with you if they think it’s a stupid question. If you’re wondering, ‘where am I going to be in five years’ or ‘do I want to continue on this trajectory,’ they don’t assign you files. They take it as though you’re not committed to being there.”
After a year into his new legal career, Salas began to have some doubts and concerns regarding his current path. Wanting to get perspective from an attorney outside his firm, he contacted the MAP and was successfully paired with a mentor.
“Starting out, anyone would expect there would be challenges,” Salas says. “Some people [even] love trial by fire, but you start to think, ‘when does this end? How long does this last? Are they supposed to be training me more? Or is this just how it is?’ It’s always good to have a neutral third party with no concern about what you’re going to ask or discuss. It’s invaluable. You develop a sense of trust. And it helped to have some of those feelings validated.”
Throughout his discussions with his mentor, Salas was able to gain perspective and reduce his anxiety about the path he was on. It helped him to make some decisions to improve his career and, by extension, his outlook.
“After my recent employment transition, I am happy and excited to go to work. I love my job now,” Salas says. “I credit [my mentor] with encouraging me to take the leap. He helped me make the best decision I’ve made in the past few years.”
If you have the experience, becoming a mentor can really contribute to your overall mental health. It’s a way to gain a sense of fulfillment in helping others, as well as the satisfaction of contributing to their success and development. It’s also an opportunity to expand your repertoire of professional knowledge and skill through your instruction and facilitation.
By the same token, if you are still in the first few years of your career, seeking out a mentor can improve your emotional well-being. Gaining practical knowledge and insight from a seasoned colleague who has achieved a level of expertise you aspire to attain can empower personal development. Finding a neutral mentor can also help motivate and reduce anxiety.
Either way, both parties can benefit their social health through mentoring. Each can gain new insights, increase their confidence, and experience helpful self-reflection. And, perhaps most importantly, each can feel more connected – which can be a great help during these times of isolation through the ongoing pandemic.