ILANZ, In-House Lawyers Association of New Zealand

Conference Condensed #5: How our “UnSessions” unwrapped a big topic.

Conference Condensed #5: How our “UnSessions” unwrapped a big topic.


We tried a new approach

At conference in May, we tried a new approach. We asked our members and delegates to offer up their own ideas for four 30 minutes sessions. Your committee took turns manning our spanking new ILANZ exhibitor stand to chat and jot down the ideas on post-its. We then got our delegates to vote for the people’s choice of which topics to discuss at the open sessions.

The result was four really interesting “UnSessions” (a made-up term just meaning there was no plan other than to get some great, relevant crowd-sourced topics, some delegates in the room and some conversation flowing).

The first session was about the different ways to prioritise mental wellbeing in your workplace.

We learned so much!

So many in the room were open and conversational about this topic.

We heard that some companies lead the charge:

  • One offers employees mental wellbeing days in addition to annual leave
  • One offers a comprehensive mental wellbeing programme to encourage employees to recognise and manage the signs of stress and anxiety in many of its forms.   

Other great ideas and initiatives discussed were:

  • Protect your lunch break by putting a recurring meeting in your diary. Get up and away from your desk at this time no matter what. If you can fit in exercise or a walk to clear your head, that’s a huge bonus.
  • Start a walking group with colleagues to have a commitment to meet others and leave the building
  • Take a day a month off to re-group and re-charge (if you have enough leave)
  • Be aware that if you are feeling stressed and unwell with it, you can call in sick. Being mentally unwell is just as valid a reason to take a sick day.
  • Place something calming on your desk to touch or look at to clear your head
  • Podcasts: download one and take a walk around the block while listening to it (even if just for 15 minutes)
  • Go and do a short gym session
  • Go and have a read or just a walk
  • Use EAP (employee assistance programmes to chat with a counsellor): they’re offered by a lot of employers and are usually free and always confidential

As well as the practical and pragmatic, there were a lot of shared stories from delegates who shared that they have ongoing mental wellness issues or observe them in others. What this reminded us in the room was that it can be hard as a manager or a colleague to be the support person too. It is a team effort to keep everyone healthy. It also reminded us that most of us in the room had exposure to this wellness issue at large.

We had to call time at the 30 minute mark: it was obvious that we could have continued to discuss for a lot longer. Fellow ILANZ committee member Grant Pritchard and I co-facilitated the session. We did this in November 2017 too at another ‘UnSession’ we hosted: that too was on mental wellness and that too generated a huge amount of open sharing and caring. It blew us away.

Growing momentum

Grant went on to start a unique workplace initiative called HeadFirst at Spark. It was a grass roots forum for discussing mental wellbeing, all managed in his and a colleague’s personal time. In less than 6 months they have had hundreds of colleagues share stories, message each other on an internal shared forum to check in on one another and attend mental wellbeing events.

I was honoured to step up for Grant in early August to share his story at Lexvoco’s masterclass. Grant was called away overseas so his HeadFirst co-founder Niall McCarthy and I explained the initiative and fielded Q&A. Once again, the sharing from that Q&A shows that more rather than fewer members in a room appear to experience challenges to stay mentally healthy.

ILANZ’s initiatives to help support our members’ wellbeing and build understanding

You’ll be hearing and seeing more from ILANZ in this space.

We live-streamed the Kensington Swan seminar on mental wellbeing in the workplace on 31 July (again, thanks to Grant Pritchard who volunteers to run these livestreamed sessions).

We aim to continue to connect and support our members through all the chapters of their in house legal careers, even the challenging ones. If you ever need to share anything or have some suggested ideas for us (initiatives, speakers, hints & tips) please feel free to email me at.   


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