Interview with Jonathan Phelan
Solicitor, Leader & Advocate for Resilience & Wellbeing
Q Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do through Evenhood.
A By profession I’m a solicitor with a professional background in finance and banking litigation. I am also part of the senior leadership team at the UK's financial regulator.
I also run a social enterprise called Evenhood which is focused on supporting Wellbeing & Resilience in various organisations – workplaces, universities and schools. Through Evenhood I provide resilience training for organisations and wellbeing coaching for individuals. I’ve also written a couple of books – “The Art of the Mentally Healthy Conversation”, to help people have more effective conversations about their wellbeing; and “Be A More Resilient You”, to help people develop Resilience and Mental Toughness.
Q Why did you create Evenhood?
A A few years ago my wife and I went through the traumatic experience of a child bereavement. That difficult experience had a big impact on my mental health and overall wellbeing. At the time I was in a senior leadership role and my personal experience led me to reflect on how hard it is for people to get support at work when they go through a difficult time. I launched Evenhood because I was so moved by what I learned about support for wellbeing at work. My two aims are to help people have more effective conversations about wellbeing (which result in support, rather than stigma); and to help people improve their personal resilience and mental toughness.
Q How could we talk about mental health and wellbeing in a more positive way?
A I want to help people have more effective conversations about wellbeing. This means that people get support for their wellbeing. My suggestion is that we should nudge the conversation away from the emotion, negativity and complexity of talking about the situation or condition that is having an impact on us. If we do that, we find that the people listening struggle to find a way to help. found out for myself that people didn't respond in a supportive way to hearing about my own wellbeing challenges. That's the case for many of my coaching clients too. It doesn't just apply to mental illness. It applies to the day to day stresses that impact our wellbeing
I found that if we shift the conversation to focus on the positive things that support our resilience, this gives the people listening a clearer path to providing support. For that reason I suggest we focus on the things that have an impact on our wellbeing (people can help us remove these “Triggers”) as well as the things that keep us wellbeing in positive territory (they can help us
That sort of conversation looks more like this.
I encourage my coaching clients to develop a wellbeing card so that they know what their Triggers and Resilient Resources are. They don't necessarily physically give these to other people, although some do. The important thing is that they can then have a positive, supportive conversation about their wellbeing.
Q Do you have any observations on the legal profession.
A As a solicitor by profession I have both experienced and seen colleagues grapple with the challenges of the role. I’ve been a Training Principal to help nurture trainee solicitors and I have worked with barristers both in Chambers and in in-house roles. While everyone has their own particular characteristics, there are some common themes that have a particular impact on the legal profession.
The legal profession can be very demanding. Lawyers need to be ‘right’ in a world where there is actually a lot of grey and things often aren’t clearly right or wrong, black or white. Clients depend on us giving them the right answer. This can impose a heavy burden of responsibility on members of the profession.
Workloads are also challenging and workload pressure leads to a lot of unhelpful behaviours. Presenteeism, a lack of exercise, not eating properly, not getting enough sleep, not relaxing sufficiently, not engaging in pastimes or socialising to wind-down. All of these things have an impact on both our physical and our mental health.
“Purpose” is also a feature for people from the legal profession that I have Coached. Individuals enter the legal profession for many and various reasons - a sense of justice and fairness is a common feature in many clients I have coached from the legal profession. A mismatch between personal ethics and the ethics of the organisation you work for is, in my experience, one of the biggest causes of workplace stress and dissatisfaction that I have seen.
Finally, autonomy is also a big wellbeing feature. Wellbeing is often threatened where we perceive a loss of control and a lack of trust. Where people work in environment where they are not trusted to operate to the best of their abilities, this can threaten our resilience.
Q How can people create their own wellbeing card?
A The key to creating a wellbeing card is to become more familiar with the things that impact our wellbeing. For so me people these things are obvious. For others it may take some self-reflection or coaching to help identify the things that impact our wellbeing and improve our resilience.
I've prepared some tools for the Bar Council to help people develop their own personal wellbeing & resilience strategy.