How your firm can survive the great resignation
Understandably, coronavirus (COVID-19) has given people a lot to think about, and forced many to experience things that may not otherwise have been considered or confronted for a long time.
Employees are railing against a return to full-time office life. Having experienced burnout and high levels of workload, as the boundaries between work and home life blurred, employees are now demanding better and expecting more.
Many are now taking a proactive approach to the view that there is more to life than work, by voting with their feet.
That way, they can ensure they avoid a lack of fulfilment at work, by seeking alternative roles in workplaces in which they feel valued and purposeful.
The May 2022 UK Labour Force Survey released by the Office for National Statistics, showed resignations and job-to-job moves in the UK were at a record high.
A Randstad UK recruiter survey found that 24% of workers actively planned to change employers within three to six months, up from the usual expected 11%.
Those figures look conservative when considering the Airwaves poll from January 2022 which shows that half of workers are considering quitting their jobs this year.
The driving force behind it? The desire to achieve a better work-life balance.
So, what’s the solution?
Throwing money at the problem might be tempting, but it is in fact not the quick or easy solution that people think it is.
While initially, particularly in North America, law firms have sought to stem the tide of resignations by increasing compensation and pay, that’s not a sustainable solution over the long term.
Culture change takes time.
The traditional business model of targets and billable hours is now under intense scrutiny. The old ways of working will no longer wash in the post-pandemic ‘new normal’.
So, is your firm ready to withstand the great resignation in the UK? Here are three ways your law firm can improve their culture to keep afloat.
1. Continue to adopt hybrid working
The stats tell us that the predominant reason for trends associated with the great resignation is a search by employees for 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 needed.
We have seen rapid developments in technology, which has allowed for changes, such as remote court hearings and lawyers continuing their legal work from home.
These changes, which people previously thought would happen in 50 years, have allowed the legal market to become so much more accessible.
Without a continued commitment to hybrid working, law firms face a fate similar to Blockbuster, or many other firms that didn’t change with the times.
Adapt or die, it’s as simple as that.
By doing so, firms cater for all requirements – from the trainees who seek regular touch points with mentors and a daily office life, to the working parents who have found working from home beneficial in balancing their career and family life.
As an extension of this, employees would benefit from firms overhauling the billable hours and target-based business model.
Firms focusing on output, rather than input, are more likely to be able to tempt employees to stay, or attract them to join.
2. Walk the talk on wellbeing
It’s clear that one complaint from employees’ has been around the feeling that they are now ‘living from work’, as opposed to working from home.
It seems inevitable that post-pandemic work and life will be far more ‘blended’ than ever before.
Firms can improve their culture by genuinely encouraging healthy boundaries, not only for those who wish to continue to work predominantly from home but also for those in the office too.
- make leaders aware of the value and benefit of promoting and setting healthy boundaries
- create an environment where there is an awareness around how damaging the 24/7 reactive culture is to mental health and wellbeing
- encourage leaders to log off and stop working at reasonable times – whether at home or at the office
- be mindful of the potential impact on recipients of sending emails outside of usual office hours
- introduce, and take, wellbeing days
This will lead by example, and showcase behaviour which will positively influence law firm culture for the better.
3. Prioritise employee engagement.
If employees feel valued and heard, they will be retained, because there will be no desire from them to go anywhere else.
External talent will also be attracted to join, seeing what a happy workplace the firm is.
There are some easy wins here, provided culturally the workplace is psychologically safe (learn more about psychologically safe workplaces) and allows people to speak freely without fear.
Encourage open communication and feedback from employees. Whether through one to ones or employee engagement surveys. That way you can demonstrate that people are valued and recognised in a meaningful way.
Ask people what they want and try to deliver it. Especially around flexible working and career progression, provided it is reasonable when balanced against the needs of the business.
I develop the latter point (about career progression, ‘your way’), in my recent TEDx Talk.
Encourage positive relationships with those working from home to trust them to get on with things without the need for micromanagement.
The productivity of those working from home throughout the pandemic skyrocketed, after all!
Trust is the lynchpin of this. But showing appreciation, particularly when people are working remotely and may on occasion feel disparate or disconnected from the office team, is also a useful strategy.
How law firms deliver on the needs of current or prospective employees, will doubtless determine their ability to withstand the great resignation in the legal profession.
In order to avoid the potentially negative consequences of the great resignation, firms should:
- ensure that there is healthy alignment between employer and employee
- continue to embrace flexible, hybrid working
- reflect the change in talent expectation
- keep wellbeing, trust, and open communication at its core
Time will tell whether – culturally – firms have done enough.
Views expressed in our blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the Law Society.
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