It’s no secret that the legal sector is not particularly renowned for its strong staff wellbeing strategies; instead, law firms can be notorious for long, unsociable hours and extensive workloads.
Some staff even work on average around 11 hours a day. So how – in an industry that seems to have this reputation ingrained – do firms buck the trend?
Making flexibility a reality
The way employee’s approach their professional life is changing – people are becoming far less willing to sacrifice time with family, and younger workers in particular are seeking less traditional hours of work. While many industries have embraced this new format of working, notoriously hectic professions continue to lag behind when it comes to allowing for more malleable working hours.
Of course, introducing a flexible working policy into a traditionally 9-5 (or longer) profession, such as law, does come with challenges. Client expectations mean that there needs to be someone available, and informed, to speak to in working hours and beyond. So how do you offer a flexible working policy while making sure client standards don’t slip?
Put simply, the best way is to ensure that all team members are up to speed so that there is always someone available who is knowledgeable on cases, clients and other aspects of work. This then allows a policy to be implemented to give all employees to work flexibly when required.
This level of flexibility has to come with a high degree of trust in your employees though. If flexible policies are abused then they do not function, but in my experience employees are more than willing to be fair and practical when given this freedom.
Building an employee benefits package
Creating a tailored benefits package for a firm can help not only attract the top-tier talent but retain them. This is by no means one-size-fits-all. Every business, and every employee for that matter, is different, and understanding what drives both is key to a benefits package. To ensure it is truly attractive to employees, listening is key. Allowing staff to have a say in remuneration makes rewards more personal and effective.
Similarly, offering employees various reward options will make them more tailored and attractive to individuals. For example, while monetary rewards may have traditionally been the most sought after, many employees may appreciate a team day or event to feel more connected and sociable. Some may also appreciate incentives that focus on personal development such as subsided activities outside of work or gym memberships.
Communication is key
Strong communication is also key to boosting employee wellbeing within a firm or business. This can sometimes be challenging in large, busy organisations when managers are extremely busy. To combat this, I would recommend creating a culture of openness. More specifically, keeping all staff, regardless of job titles, in the loop with business updates and future plans. This not only allows employees to feel valued and respected within the firm, but provides them with an opportunity to discuss any potential problems or processes that could be improved. This way, members of staff do not feel stifled and any issues are dealt with in an upfront way.
Outside of this format, we encourage line managers to ensure that they are visible and approachable to all members of their team. Staff should feel comfortable when raising suggestions or issues, so managers should always be open to listening to and considering an employee’s thoughts. This goes for work-related issues, but also any potential problems staff may have in terms of mental wellbeing, to ensure that all members of the workforce feel secure in being honest with their managers.
Making wellbeing a business priority
Unfortunately, for a lot of law firms, employee wellbeing and morale is not considered as important as the caseloads. For example, my position as head of people – a dedicated role to concentrate on all things people-related – is very unusual in the legal sector. Although, firms will not be oblivious to the popularity of benefits such as flexible working: recent research found that 49 per cent of Brits consider this to be the most coveted benefit.
HR directors and managers in law firms should get ahead of the curve sooner rather than later to introduce these schemes, which are highly likely to become the norm within some industries. This will prevent them from missing out on top quality talent to more forward-thinking firms, and help them retain valuable employees.