It’s good to talk

None of us know how long the current pandemic will last, but it is clear that it has created opportunities to review working practices and the way services are delivered to meet client needs.

In some respects, Covid19 has precipitated changes that were already beginning to take place in the legal sector; the use of technology and streamlining of processes have resulted in efficiencies which create leaner and more nimble law firms better equipped to help clients irrespective of their geographical location. The ability to work remotely is now a selection criteria for many clients, and a business development opportunity for lawyers no longer bound by geographical limitations. 

However, business survival and future success requires more than knowing how to use Zoom and other collaboration tools wisely. The sudden onset of a National lockdown meant firms needed to adapt quickly to preserve the needs of their business, clients, and employees. Many employees had to learn new ways of doing their jobs at a distance in a matter of days, proving just how quickly organisations can overcome resistance to change when they really have to. 

Changes to working practices introduced as a result of the pandemic have been a positive experience for some people, but more challenging for others. It has heightened awareness that employee wellbeing is essential not only to individuals, but also to the success of the entire firm. 

How do you approach employee wellbeing? 

There is no one size fits all approach to wellbeing. However, to truly thrive, employees need a sense of purpose, an understanding of how what they do matters, how this contributes to overall business performance, and to feel trusted and appreciated. 

Recent research published by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA suggests that from a study of 3.1 million people working from home, across 16 global cities, the average working day increased by 8.2% , or 48.3 minutes a day during the early weeks of the pandemic. 

With longer working days, numerous online meetings, and more emails than ever before, managing teams remotely can prove far from straightforward. 

A survey of just under 1000 firms by the Institute of Directors (IOD) shows that 74% plan on maintaining an increase in home working and reducing outlay on business premises and associated costs. The role of an office is to congregate and helps people to work together, so if firms are thinking about reducing their office space, they will need to consider ways to recreate opportunities for the exchange of ideas, and ways to keep employees updated on how the business is doing.

How can managers support employee wellbeing?

Creating a culture of wellbeing can be challenging to achieve and measure at the best of times, informal communication that is usually spontaneous in the office will require more effort in a remote setting. However, regular conversations focussed on the challenges thrown up by remote working is now an essential part of any managers role.

Managers can expect a wide difference in productivity across employees as some find working from home energising, whilst others are struggling to be as productive as they would usually be under normal conditions. Employees can feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty surrounding all of us, and a fear of being “out of control” can create high levels of anxiety. 

The usual coping mechanisms may not be working; social distancing requirements mean that there are less opportunities to socialise informally, childcare responsibilities can be disruptive, and exercise can`t be done in the safe environment of a gym, so letting off stress is not so easy. 

Managers will need to become more trusting of what employees are up to during the working day and empathise with colleagues to understand how best to provide practical professional support. Importantly, managers must know how to encourage employees to be honest about the type of support they actually need. Internal mentoring programmes to encourage colleague collaboration and fostering safe one to one conversations to include wide employee participation will become increasingly critical to employee engagement and wellbeing. 

When firms are too focussed on their bottom line, they can forget what made them successful in the first place, failing to see the link between employee wellbeing and profitability. 

Focussing on output and the quality of work rather than how many hours an employee has spent working, will finally shift the emphasis away from time recording to measuring efficiency and effectiveness, which are after all more important to achieving client satisfaction. 

Employee wellbeing is a competitive advantage.

Employee experience is now a hot topic, alongside equality, inclusion, and diversity, as firms become increasingly aware that employee wellbeing can be a competitive advantage. 

A happy, resilient workforce with the right skills and competencies is key to both client and employee engagement. A happy workforce makes it easier to retain talent, conversely, an unhappy workforce is less productive, and will eventually reduce productivity and damage client relations.

In our experience, very few managers, heads of departments, or team leaders are adequately trained in people management, or given the opportunity to focus on how to become more valuable to their colleagues by learning how to listen properly, and develop effective communication skills. 

Many firms that want to implement a wellbeing programme simply don`t know where to start and have no clear strategy for employee wellbeing. They often use internal surveys to gauge employee satisfaction, but then fail to act on feedback. The problem is that employee surveys only provide a snapshot of a specific moment in time, but don`t offer up solutions to any problems or issues raised. There can be a large gap between what firms are offering and what employees actually need. Implementing a successful employee wellbeing programme requires planning, a structure, and a clear employee communication strategy. 

If your firm needs support devising it`s employee wellbeing programme, we are able to help.

Meanwhile, there is no shortcut to gaining trust, managers need to be generous with their time, have confidence in their own abilities, and act with humility. Employers must be prepared to ask what employees need, listen to feedback, and put wellbeing at the top of their strategic agenda.

Kimberley Williams

©Williams Wroe

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