Looking after your mental wellbeing at work

A supplementary guide for paralegals, business support staff in the Intellectual Property profession and those who manage them

Communication skills for managers

By Jo Donaldson, Head of Operations, Haseltine Lake Kempner LLP

As a line manager, you have the opportunity to create a positive and supportive work environment for your team. But it can sometimes be hard to know where to start or what to do when you feel things are going wrong. This can feel even more challenging with the introduction of hybrid working for many

Key areas to consider when working with your team

Also included are tips for handling common situations.

Requesting a meeting allows you to prepare what you are going to say in advance and ensures you have time and privacy. If you can, check out your manager’s diary and suggest a few dates/times that suit both of you.

  • Be aware of the personalities and motivations at play and be considerate about how to protect and support all the different members of the team.
  • Learn to recognise the different types of people you work with and how they respond differently to pressures.
  • Sometimes it may be necessary to intervene to stop ‘people pleasers’ from being overburdened. This may involve helping them to better balance their workload or to support them when they can say no to work.
  • Some people need lower volumes of work to feel settled, some thrive under busier workloads. Know the difference and respond to that.
  • Some people are good at setting boundaries. Others may avoid setting them as they try to show their ambition to learn and progress. Where people struggle, you may need to step in to reinforce what is appropriate.
  • Consider how to encourage an individual to work to their full potential, without adding too much pressure to their working life. Regular conversations will help.
  • Think about different ways to communicate and how to provide alternative forums for people to share their ideas. Quieter team members may be intimidated in a group setting, so ensure there are other opportunities for them to contribute.
  • Speaking with individual team members frequently is essential for a successful team. Regular conversations are also key for individual engagement and wellbeing.
  • Conversations can be about workloads, experiences in the workplace, or what you’ve been doing at the weekend. Keep them open.
  • Getting to know your team members will make it easier to spot the signs when things aren’t going as well. For example, you may notice someone has become more withdrawn or their attention to detail is not at their usual standard.
  • Regular communication also means the channel to talk is already open, so it’s easier for someone to raise their concerns with you.
  • It allows you to step in early and suggest small changes to ease a situation before things get bigger.
  • Be aware that saying your ‘door is always open’ and being consistently accessible are different things.
  • Keep a balance between always being available to your team and protecting your own boundaries. If someone asks to talk you don’t have to drop everything immediately, but can instead schedule a time soon that suits you both. This will also allow you to approach any conversation in the right frame of mind, which will be better for both of you.
  • Remember that spending time talking to your team members, understanding them as people and building their trust, is never a waste of your working day.

We are all aware of the benefits of establishing a good work-life balance and the need to set boundaries to achieve this (see How to set healthy workplace boundaries). But do we think about the standard we set in our teams by our own behaviour?.

  • You may feel a need to demonstrate your willingness to work hard, to ‘do your share’ and even to protect your team from some of the challenges faced. But if you are staying late regularly and telling your team not to, they may follow your actions rather than your words.
  • You are a marker of your firm’s expectations and your behaviour will be seen as an indication of what you and the firm expect.
  • Keep any contact with your team and with other areas of the business (e.g. sending emails, arranging calls) to within your normal working hours.
  • Encourage meetings without distractions. It is easy, particularly on video calls, to keep an eye on emails and messages at the same time. It’s important to give your time to be fully in the meeting and show your team the benefit of focusing on the task at hand.
  • Take your annual leave and disconnect from work. This will give you the opportunity to recover. You can then return to work refreshed and better able to support your team.
  • Delegate tasks. This allows you to focus on the tasks only you can do, giving the best value to your team. It also shows your team that you trust their capabilities.

Working in the IP sector, we often have to deal with competing demands from across the business. It can sometimes be difficult to maintain our normal processes under this pressure and we can slip into unhealthy patterns, like regularly working extra hours even when not necessary. Line managers will feel this pressure, as will most if not all members of their team.

  • Are they someone who thrives under the pressure of a busy workload? Or do they need lower volumes of work to feel settled and in control? Know the difference and respond to that.
  • Do they know they should be setting their own boundaries? Are they comfortable with doing that? Do you need to reinforce this? See How to set healthy workplace boundaries.
  • In the IP sector, sometimes deadlines mean we need to work beyond our usual hours. This can mean we work longer hours even when it’s not completely necessary. Does your team know when they can say no to requests that would require them to work out of hours? Make sure they know how to do this (see How to say no well).
  • It’s important for the success of the business that individuals work to their full potential, feeling positive and engaged. It’s therefore key for you as line manager to check when the balance isn’t being struck and to help the individual get back to a stable point.

As a line manager you are often the first point of contact for team members. You may feel comfortable being approached by your team members about any subject or you may not.

  • You do not need all the answers, so focus on listening without problem solving.
  • Consider how you can support them in your role as line manager. For example, could you suggest a different working pattern (either temporary or permanent)? Can you connect them with someone else for more support and/or have regular catch-ups to talk through their progress?
  • You may wish to discuss this with your HR department if you are not sure what approach to take. If so, reassure them that you will investigate the options and come back to them soon, then set a date/time to come back to them.
  • Find out if they want you to check in with them again and then do.


Zoe has a good relationship with her team and likes to believe they feel comfortable coming to her with any problem or situation, especially if it is work-related. However, when one of her team members came to her and disclosed that she had been going through a painful cycle of fertility treatment, Zoe felt completely out of her depth. The team member disclosed that after several failed attempts they had finally conceived and had now lost the baby at 11 weeks. The team member was clearly deeply distressed disclosing this but also concerned that they needed to be professional and not bring private problems into work.

Zoe’s initial reaction was of panic that she could not solve the problem, awareness of her own ignorance and feeling deeply sorry for her team member’s distress. She was also aware that dealing with this situation would need longer than the 10 minutes she had before an important meeting. She remembered the importance of active listening as well as calming breathing. Having given the team member space to describe the situation, she explained that she had a meeting to attend shortly but that she would let them know she might be a little bit late. She also suggested they schedule time for them to talk about this at greater length.

In the 15 minutes or so that they had, Zoe was able to give space to talk and encouraged her to stop work for the day and take the rest of the week off, if that would be helpful. They arranged to meet the following week so they could think about what support would be needed. Zoe also gave details of the company EAP in case they would like to talk with a counsellor.

Zoe flagged up that she might need to consult with HR to see what adjustments might be needed but they could look at that some more when they met next and would not do that without consent. She reassured them about confidentiality and that the reason for her absence would not be disclosed to the rest of the team, unless she wanted it to be. At the next meeting, Zoe said that she would need to make a brief record of what had been discussed and any agreed actions, but this would be stored securely and confidentially in line with their company’s data protection guidelines.

Zoe felt a bit wobbly and upset afterwards and made sure that she had a bit of space to herself after the meeting before going back to the rest of the working day.



Zoe was able to reflect that in spite of feeling panic at first, she was able to deal with the situation calmly and compassionately. She also recognised the value of listening carefully, not rushing in with solutions, consulting with others if necessary and the importance of looking after herself as well.

Also in this guide