As we move towards the Christmas period, the time for relaxation beckons. The holiday season is also a chance to reflect and commit to change, even if the New Year's resolutions that follow rarely survive beyond January. Having said that, one improvement that the IP profession must pledge to make wholeheartedly centres on mental health and wellbeing – right now, companies are not doing enough to help their staff.
This notion emerges from the first part of a Managing IP survey of global in-house IP counsel. The results are supported by a separate study of UK patent and trademark professionals that was conducted by IP Inclusive, a professional body which aims to promote equality, diversity and inclusion. Published in September, the IP Inclusive study found, among other things, that 1 in 16 students had contemplated suicide in the preceding year. Managing IP revealed just two months later that a majority of in-house counsel often feel stressed at work and that two thirds always or often take their work home with them. The remaining findings can be found in our cover story.
The statistics may ring true for many in IP, but it doesn't mean they should be acceptable. While it wouldn't be fair to say companies are being complacent, they need to do more to help staff members overcome mental health problems. Having access to a mental health 'first aider' is undoubtedly noble, and encouraging people to meditate and cycle to work is encouraging if not ground-breaking, but the root causes of stress and pressure need to be tackled head on. IP teams are often under-resourced, causing individuals to work around the clock, while some take it upon themselves to go the extra mile in what has become a 'go, go, go' culture.
On the first point – work overload – companies need to reassess the importance of keeping their staff happy. It's no revelation that happier staff will produce better work. It seems like an obvious thing to say, but when two surveys show that stress levels are too high, staff happiness shouldn't be overlooked. In the IP world specifically, the extra challenge many departments face is that IP is further down the pecking order than other areas of law. It is therefore incumbent on the IP leaders and influencers within every company to educate and explain their value. If they can do that, the resources and support may soon trickle down. And if they haven't already, these managers should put structures in place so that their staff are not working on email outside of hours – a common practice, it seems – and are not afraid to speak up.
As the IP Inclusive survey shows, these problems persist among private practitioners. Arguably, they are even worse. It is striking that most of the in-house counsel Managing IP spoke to perceive their role to be less stressful than private practice work. Worryingly – and once again pointing to the need for change in the wider legal industry – most counsel say they work fewer hours than non-IP in-house lawyers. The evidence is there that the IP industry needs to step up and make big changes – will it rise to the challenge?