Naturally, the coronavirus (COVID-19) has given people a lot to think about and forced many of them to experience things that otherwise might not have been considered or faced for a long time.
Employees oppose a return to full-time office life. After experiencing burnout and a high workload, as the boundaries between work and personal life blurred, employees are now demanding better and expecting more.
Many are now taking a proactive approach that there is more to life than work, by voting with their feet.
This way, they can ensure that they avoid a lack of fulfillment at work, by seeking alternative roles in workplaces in which they feel valued and useful.
The month of May 2022 UK Labor Force Survey published by the Office for National Statistics, showed quits and job changes in the UK were at an all-time high.
A survey of Randstad UK recruiters found that 24% of workers actively plan to change employers within three to six months, compared to the usual 11%.
These figures seem conservative considering the January 2022 Airwaves poll which shows that half of workers plan to leave their jobs this year.
The driving force behind this? The desire to achieve a better work-life balance.
So what is the solution ?
Throwing money at the problem may be tempting, but it’s actually not the quick or easy fix that people think it is.
While initially, particularly in North America, law firms have sought to stem the tide of resignations by increasing pay and salaries, this is not a sustainable long-term solution.
Culture change takes time.
The traditional business model of goals and billable hours is now under intense scrutiny. Old ways of working will no longer be washed away in the post-pandemic “new normal”.
So, is your company ready to withstand the big quit in the UK? Here are three ways your law firm can improve its culture to stay afloat.
1. Continue to embrace hybrid working
Statistics tell us that the predominant reason for the trends associated with the Great Quit is employees’ pursuit of a better work-life balance.
The pandemic has demonstrated to the world that, however uncomfortable the experience, law firms can quickly adapt to change if necessary.
We have seen rapid developments in technology, which has enabled changes, such as remote hearings and lawyers continuing their legal work from home.
These changes, which people previously thought would happen 50 years from now, have allowed the legal market to become much more accessible.
Without an ongoing commitment to hybrid working, law firms face a fate similar to Blockbuster, or many other firms that haven’t changed over time.
Adapt or die, it’s as simple as that.
In doing so, companies cater to all requirements – from interns who seek regular touchpoints with mentors and daily office life, to working parents who have found working from home to be beneficial in balancing their careers and family life.
As an extension of this, employees would benefit from the companies reviewing billable hours and the goal-based business model.
Companies that focus on production rather than inputs are more likely to be able to entice employees to stay or entice them to join.
2. Speak out about wellness
Clearly one employee complaint is about the feeling that they are now “living off the job”, as opposed to working from home.
It seems inevitable that post-pandemic work and life will be much more “blended” than ever before.
Companies can improve their culture by genuinely encouraging healthy boundaries, not only for those who wish to continue working primarily from home, but also for those who are in the office.
- Educate leaders on the value and benefits of promoting and setting healthy boundaries
- creating an environment of awareness of the damage caused by the 24/7 reactive culture to mental health and well-being
- encourage leaders to log off and stop working reasonable hours – whether at home or in the office
- be aware of the potential impact on recipients of sending emails outside normal business hours
- introduce and take wellness days
This will lead by example and exhibit behavior that will positively influence the culture of the law firm for the better.
3. Prioritize employee engagement.
If employees feel valued and heard, they will be held back because they won’t want to go anywhere else.
External talent will also be attracted, seeing what a fun place the company is to work.
There are easy wins here, provided the workplace is culturally psychologically safe (learn more about psychologically safe workplaces) and allows people to speak freely without fear.
Encourage open communication and employee feedback. Whether through individual surveys or employee engagement surveys. This way you can demonstrate that people are valued and recognized in a meaningful way.
Ask people what they want and try to deliver it. Especially around flexible working and career progression, as long as it’s reasonable when balanced against business needs.
I expand on this last point (about career progression, ‘your way’), in my recent TEDx talk.
Encourage positive relationships with those working from home to trust them to get things done without the need for micromanagement.
The productivity of those working from home throughout the pandemic has skyrocketed, after all!
Trust is the key. But showing appreciation, especially when people are working remotely and can sometimes feel disparate or disconnected from the office team, is also a helpful strategy.
How law firms respond to the needs of current or potential employees will undoubtedly determine their ability to withstand the great resignation of the legal profession.
In order to avoid the potentially negative consequences of the Great Resignation, companies should:
- ensure there is a healthy alignment between employer and employee
- continue to embrace flexible and hybrid working
- reflect changing talent expectations
- keep well-being, trust and open communication at heart
Time will tell if – culturally – companies have done enough.
The opinions expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.