b'PEOPLE| LEGAL SECTOR| 2021SUSTAINABILITY INSIGHTFLEXIBLE WORKING and distractions. For many, the increased load on their internet as multiple people worked or learned remotely caused frustrations and impacted on performance.A significant yet often hidden cost on employees include:An increase in mental health issues such as depression and anxietyAdded pressure on family and personal relationshipsBlurring between work and home time making it difficult to switch offA loss of personal connections with work colleaguesIncreased occupational health issues due to poor home-office ergonomics and work practices Legal Sector Response AusLSA members have stepped up their monitoring and programs to address the adverse impact of home working on staff members. They are planning to make a future return to the office to be a safe environment that provides optionsto spend time in the office and work effectively with members of their team who may be continuing to work remotely. New flexible working arrangements and support were common strategies to help staff adapt. Useful initiatives include greater flexibility for leave arrangements, additional carers leave, new supporting technology as well relief from billing and productivity targets were some of the strategies employed to help manage the new operating environment. Australian state-based law societies have been active in helping firms to deliver improved flexibility for their practicing members.The Queensland Law Society has developed a Flexible Working GroupThe Law Society of New South Wales has published online resources on flexible workThe New South Wales Bar Association has a number of resources on its websiteVictorian Women Lawyers have published Flexible Work Protocolsa best practice guide for productive and engaged legal workplaces.The Law Society of Western Australia has adopted the Victorian Women Lawyers Flexible Work Protocols.Comparison of PerformanceAusLSA MembersAll Legal ServicesAccountingAll ProfessionalAustralian Industry Services Policy100% 89% 83% 72% 57%Paid Parental Leave97% 82% 58% 77% 81%Paid Parental Leave - weeks 16 (related to tenure) 11 11 9 10Secondary Carers Leave 97% 80% 67% 57% 42%Source: WGEA Comparison tool 2021 AusLSA Member PerformanceFor the last six years AusLSA has documented the growing commitment of its members and a capacity to support its employees through flexible working programs and agile working approaches. This was originally developed as a way to take pressure off lawyers, provide a greater work-life balance and provide greater opportunities for employees with wider responsibilities. COVID experiences with remote working were improved by (among other things) the prior investment in technology, agile working systems and behaviour change. The foundation of technology and work processes was enhanced to find new solutions to emerging issues and needs. Without this preparation the effects of rolling shutdowns that closed offices and shut national and international borders would have been disastrous for both law firms and clients.Most AusLSA members have shared common experiences from the initial implementation of remote and flexible working arrangements, to juggling the additional, unexpected impact of overcoming home office issues, and now finally in planning for a return to office that is likely to include much higher rates of flexible and remote working. This is the fifth consecutive year where all report respondents have indicated that flexible working policies and programs are in place. We have seen a greater number of support programs to assist parents to better balance their family and work objectives.Ninety-seven percent of firms provide paid parental leave for secondary carers in addition to their paid primary carer schemes. The amount of leave offered increased from 2.8 weeks to 5.1 weeks with a number of firms providing up to 18 weeks for secondary care givers to help them to more easily share the responsibility of parenting. 28'