I was delighted to have the recent honour of speaking to over 500 solicitor delegates at the annual Outsource Conference 2018. The conference was entitled “The challenges and Opportunities in Running a Law Firm in 2018-2019” and David Rowe Outsource Director had the foresight to not only address the issues of cyber crime, pensions and other insurance issues that are current for solicitors, but also the topic of work place wellness.
What is Workplace wellness.
My input was to highlight the relevancy of work place wellness for the profession. Increasingly workplaces, especially larger firms, are understanding the need to attend to staff welfare. Workplace wellness, as I define it, is a workplace where staff can flourish and utilise their skills, where flexible benefits are the norm and staff feel engaged, productive and effective in their work. It’s not about staff having longer lunch breaks and arriving in to work when they feel like it, but rather that staff feel treated well and respected and are engaged and want to be in work and so perform to their full potential.
In a climate where the economy is on the return, and staff retention is now an issue it is now imperative that employers attend to staff welfare. As Louise Phelan ( CEO Paypal Ireland) said at a CIPD conference recently : “People are how we get things Done”. A simple and obvious statement but so true. Paypal employ 2,500 people but they too are focussing on staff retention as the competition for skilled workers continue to rise . A study from Morgan Mc Kinley in 2017 predicted nearly two-thirds of millennials plan to leave their current job within three years. There is no side stepping that we need to keep staff happy and engaged to ensure a workplace is fully effective and functioning well and that people want to stay. Also, staff want to be part of a workplace where there is a good atmosphere and they feel valued and issues that arise are addressed. They want to be part of an effective team where there is an atmosphere of engagement and co operation. Workplace wellbeing is good for staff and good for the firm and its win win all around!
Stresses in the workplace
Current stresses in the world of solicitors seem to be consistently around volumes of work, juggling work and managing technology ! Everyone is getting emails all the time and companies do not seem to have had a conversation around this. I notice especially that junior staff feel obliged to respond immediately to a Manager who sends an email whether it be a weekend evening, or last thing at night. The Manager may well be clearing his or her desk, but the more junior colleague often feel its best to attend to this immediately, even if it is totally inconvenient and disruptive of their free time. I suggested to the conference that an email policy is helpful around issues such as the perceived expectation of a response as well as other issues such as who needs to be included in the email and also the important issue of ensuring the e mail is filed properly if needs to be attached to a client file. Some firms are running digital files and some hard copy and appropriate filing of emails can be overlooked. Other comments arose around frequency of checking emails and managing clients expectations around them. Increasingly solicitors are restricting the frequency of which they check emails and using notifications to inform the sender they will revert when they can. One very wise solicitor told us that he got a new phone over a year ago and emails were not available on it and he has kept it like that. He checks his emails when he gets back to his computer ! And only then .
Other common stresses are around juggling volumes of work, competing deadlines and for more junior staff, especially admin staff being under pressure from different task masters, all needing their work to be priority.
Communication is often key and its important that staff feel that they can say that they have “too much on”, or need more support. In some offices staff aren’t communicating and able to have the “difficult conversation”. The difficult conversation can be important in terms of addressing issues as they arise and if they don’t happen that issues fester, staff may retreat, become disgruntled or resentful and for sure work below their best !
I was addressing the issue of the importance of difficult conversations in one office and they told me they don’t do this ! What a missed opportunity. Similarily between partners, it can be very important to address issues as they arise rather than let them build up. Solicitors aren’t trained in communication skills and perhaps they should. The basic skills are about listening, reflecting back, being respectful and managing your own emotions. We may not always like the person we are in conversation with but we do still need to have conversations.
Creating A Supportive Workplace
A supportive workplace is one where there is good communication, flexibility and support for staff as needed. Increasingly companies are offering flexible terms for their employees in terms of flexible hours, working from home, careers breaks and job sharing opportunities. Research is now showing that if companies can be flexible staff are happier and also the firm is more attractive for both staff and clients as the flexibility carries over to the service that is being provided. Other aspects of a supportive workplace are that employees and Managers seek to manage their own stress and practice emotional intelligence around the dynamics of the workplace and seek o understand what is at play.
A Wellness Policy
Some companies are implementing a wellness policy and I understand that the Court Service has just developed one. This kind of process is important in terms of spelling out how your firm intends to respond to workplace wellness.
Models of Workplace Interventions.
Wellness days-talks on mental health, building resilience or health and fitness
EAP service -a help line number where staff can access a confidential service
Workplace facilitation and workshops -these are opportunities for staff to come together around a topic such as Managing Demands of a Busy Workplace. They get to address stressors in their workplace and then look at ways to address their specific issues.
Overall the presentation was well received and whilst offices are very busy, this topic will be one that is increasingly important as employers seek to ensure staff retention and seek to be flexible and supportive in their approach.
Do get in touch if you’d like to discuss issue your office may be having as I may be able to help or point you in the right direction!