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September 12, 2022

Creating a Culture of Retention and Productivity

woman showing something on a tablet to group of people

How are wellbeing, happiness, and retention inexplicably tied together in today’s companies and what can law firm leaders do to create workplaces where employees can thrive?

A panel of speakers at the International Legal Technology Association’s annual meeting discussed how firms could avoid the Great Resignation and cultivate a culture where employees feel empowered, engaged, and understood.

Employees Are not Just Leaving for Better Compensation

Led by moderator Kalina Leopold, Director of Growth for Lupl, the legal leader and consultant panelists pondered why employees are leaving law firms and recognized that it was not just to obtain higher compensation elsewhere. “Yes, compensation is one of the top reasons employees leave,” said Thomson Reuters Director of Wellbeing for Global Large Law Firms Nita Cumello. “But compensation is just table stakes and how you keep up, not how you differentiate.”

Happiness consultant and executive coach Becky Morrison agreed that many other reasons employees are leaving their roles in the legal industry right now exist: “There are unique and complicated reasons people are leaving,” said Morrison. “Clearly, the organization they are at is no longer working for them. It may relate to how they feel about being at work, their level of work, their ability to be seen, or their opportunities for growth.”

Cumello suggested the audience think about data on why employees leave in two ways: use the data to understand why a phenomenon is happening, but make sure to focus on the “how” and the “what”: “Ask what we need to be doing in response to this information and how do we do it?”

Culture is Key to Talent Retention

All the panelists agreed that an organization’s culture might be the most significant reason employees stay or leave. Morrison cited the recent MIT Sloan Management Review study of attrition rates which showed that a toxic corporate culture is by far the strongest predictor of industry-adjusted attrition, with it over ten times more important than compensation in predicting turnover.

But a “toxic” corporate culture is not just one that makes headlines. It can also be one where employees feel burned out. The panel explained that burnout does not just result from having too much work to do; Morrison cited Jennifer Moss’s five other factors that can lead to burnout: a perceived lack of control, a lack of reward or recognition, a lack of fairness, poor relationships, and a general values mismatch (which can go to an overall purpose).

The 3 E’s for Healthy Employees: Engagement, Empowerment & Empathy

So how does the legal industry reduce burnout and create a healthier culture? Andrew Kent, COO of Page One, advocates businesses improve their culture and retention by focusing on the three “e’s”: engagement, empowerment, and empathy. Find ways to get employees to engage, perhaps through pro bono or community service opportunities or training to help them develop better skills. Empower your employees by giving them discretion in some decisions up to a certain point. As a customer, Kent noted, he wants to work with suppliers and partners who feel empowered: “If you cannot fix problems, you will stop seeing problems, and you will put blinders up and leave. But if you feel empowered, you will listen to your clients and give them better service.” Finally, show empathy by increasing your emotional intelligence and looking out for your employees, especially as they struggle with work-life balance in our hybrid work environments: “You can’t leave work at the office when you’re serving dinner at the table you were just working at.”

Wellbeing and Mental Health Tied to Culture

The panel agreed that creating a healthy organizational culture means focusing on your employees’ well-being and mental health, as well-being is a vital part of an engaged and empowered workforce; it may even be the key to creating a positive organizational culture: “In the context of culture, culture does not live in the walls of your building; it lives in the hearts and minds of your people,” advised Cumello.

Morrison agreed: “When we are living in a way aligned with our wellbeing, that is we are living happily and have on average more positive experiences than negative, our health, productivity, and performance improve, and we can work in a more sustained way.”

How can a law firm create an environment where people are more engaged than disengaged and more often calmer than anxious? Cumello urged firms to take an active lead in creating environments highly focused on positive mental health and wellbeing: “We need to start doing more than putting the onus on the individual to handle their own wellbeing. Let’s not wait for people to be broken and then fix them; let’s create a more thriving environment to foster the whole person.”

How do we create an environment where the greatest asset of an organization–its people–are able to sustainably thrive over extended periods of time?

One Firm’s Attempts to Encourage Positive Mental Health

Chris Boyd, Chief Operating Officer of Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati (“WSGR”), shared how his firm rolled out a variety of wellbeing initiatives and ways to stay connected and engaged during COVID, framing them all from his perspective as a technologist on what the firm built, bought, and communicated about employees’ wellbeing.

Build: Early in the pandemic, WSGR’s leaders realized people needed extra time off to deal with kids, parents, their health, etc. But they also knew that taking time off results in increased employee stress before and afterward and can impact their work and income, often resulting in fewer employees taking the time. So, the firm created “Special Time Off” — two extra weeks of vacation for anyone to take care of their lives or loved ones–and the firm allowed lawyers and staff billable hour credit for one week of that.

Buy: When it came to providing employees with a more robust level of mental health support, the firm purchased an application one of their clients had developed. Ginger not only offered 24 hours/day, seven days/week access to mental health coaches but also connected any employee who wanted it with a licensed therapist or professional for further assistance.

Communicate: Finally, the firm communicated how vitally important taking care of your mental health is with a communications strategy to destigmatize mental health issues. Besides workshops and email campaigns, one of the most significant events employees said made the most impact was a seminar featuring several firm leaders sharing their own or their family’s mental health challenges. “There was a real perceived stigma around using mental health resources in our organization,” said Boyd. “So, we wanted to destigmatize this and say this is real.”

Result: WSGR’s health insurer said they had seen more employees utilize their plan’s mental health benefits after implementing these initiatives.

Using Technology to Drive a Better Culture

In conclusion, the panel urged legal leaders to look to technology to help employees better connect, collaborate, and empower and engage them: “In the legal profession, we tend to operate under the illusions that what worked really well in the past will continue to work,” said Cumello. “But we have learned better ways to do things, to connect and collaborate in a fair way that is inclusive of each other. One way to do that really well is to use technology.”

Like the insights shared by the panelists, SurePoint embraces change and celebrates diversity throughout our organization. It has always been our differences that have allowed us to bring innovation to our technology and disrupt outdated practices in the legal industry. Even though each of our team members has their own story to tell, we all share four principles that keep us focused, guide our decisions, and bring us together to achieve greatness. At SurePoint, we celebrate employees and culture through quarterly value awards where we recognize employees who live out and demonstrate our values: Commitment to Community, Passion Fuels Progress, Create the Future, and Together We Succeed. Additionally, individual accomplishments and experiences are not only celebrated but shared, which is done through our mentorship program that pairs new SurePoint employees with a colleague. SurePoint also offers employees flexible paid time off, mental health days to relax and recharge, and self-paced learning and development courses. SurePoint recognizes the importance of taking care of our most valuable assets – our employees. That is why we continuously evaluate our offerings to meet the evolving needs of our workforce.

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About SurePoint Technologies

SurePoint® Technologies is the leading provider of award-winning enterprise software that improves workflow and maximizes financial performance and profitability for law firms nationwide. Its distinctive cloud platform integrates client management, practice management, and financial management for powerful relationship-building and knowledge-sharing capability. With a community of more than 100,000 members, SurePoint continues to transform the legal industry by enabling law firms to unlock higher performance, freeing lawyers of administrative burdens so they can spend more time focusing on their clients and their practices.

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