By Camille Stell
The pandemic has spurred rapid changes in the legal workforce, and the trends we’re seeing are unlikely to dissipate any time soon.
Compensation is no longer just about salary and bonus structure. To attract and retain top talent, organizations need to be mindful of the ways that the workforce wants to operate now. They need to meet them halfway (and sometimes more).
5 Continuing Trends
Employee Lifestyle Demands Dictate Strategies
Employee needs and expectations are shifting. Companies are reshaping their benefits packages to respond to changing lifestyle needs. For instance, employees are demanding more time off, vacation savings plans, and of course, remote work options.
Growing Interest in Personalized Benefits
Many employees, particularly those who are parents or caregivers, are reporting feeling increasingly burned out and stretched thin. Employees are placing a higher priority on items beyond salary.
Specifically, they are looking for employers who are invested in meeting their needs with incentives like voluntary, employer-funded benefits. Some examples are perks like identity theft protection, financial counseling, healthy lifestyle programs, and supplemental insurance packages. Other family-friendly benefits include paid parental leave and dependent care flexible spending accounts to help families ease childcare costs and burdens.
Emphasis on Collegiality, Community, and Connection
In 2022, many firms set up policies that made in-office presence mandatory a few days a week. Many employers tied this requirement to job security and bonus eligibility. Whether this is effective is yet to be seen. An ABA study found that young lawyers feel so strongly about remote work flexibility that 44 percent of them claim they would leave their current job for the ability to work remotely.
Microsoft surveyed 20,000 employees across 11 countries and studied productivity signals to determine what factors seemed to drive employees back to the office. The answer was overwhelmingly: the people. Eighty-five percent claimed they’d be motivated to return to the office to build team bonds. Almost as many said they’d do it to socialize with coworkers. This suggests that in-office policies focused on building community are far more effective than punitive approaches.
Associate Comp: Recent Growth and Continued Turnover
Since the pandemic, associate compensation is the area that’s grown the most and increased firms’ overhead. Firms are decreasing lower-level staff and increasing higher-functioning staff, and their salaries, commensurately. Yet associate turnover rates are increasing, forcing firms to rethink how they go about seeking and managing talent. Fifteen years ago, a straightforward value proposition for young associates involved a call to work hard with an equal promise to pay well and set a straight and narrow path toward partnership. But as the economy shifts, so, too, do employee expectations.
Mental Health Support Must be Part of the Comp Equation
Studies are overwhelmingly showing the vital role of mental health, particularly maternal mental health, in companies’ value propositions. Making lawyers feel valued for their humanity rather than productivity can improve their well-being while reducing turnover and associated healthcare costs caused by maladaptive, stress-fueled behaviors.
Strategies for the Proactive Law Firm
Consider Personalized Benefits
Proactive employers should consider offering personalized benefits based on individual employee needs. Something to consider is offering employees a monthly or annual allowance that they can use to offset costs for voluntary benefits like paid leave, supplemental insurance plans, financial counseling, healthy lifestyle programs, mental health counseling, and more. A narrower focus could include benefits specialized to help at-risk employees, for example, benefits geared toward helping women and mothers with health conditions that put them at risk in pregnancy and birth.
Respecting Employee Boundaries is Now Mandatory
A burned-out workforce is demanding work-life balance and protecting its bandwidth. To respond, consider perks that signal to employees that you prioritize their wellness. You could start by offering expanded PTO to include, for instance, a day off on the employee’s birthday or offering a paid holiday that doesn’t count against vacation time. Consider also perks like offering a built-in winter break around the end-of-school and holiday season, an employer-funded lifestyle account that gives employees discretionary funds to use on wellness, discount agreements with childcare facilities to ease the burden of dependent care, or occasional in-office massages or yoga classes to fend off systemic stress.
Incentivize In-Office Work by Appealing to Their Humanity
According to a recent article published by Edge International, employers should “expunge any reference to wanting a ‘high performance culture’ and rather, speak in terms of building a ‘high commitment culture.’” This focus is less threatening to employees and honors the fact that they are whole individuals with real needs. Building a commitment culture involves effort on the employers’ part to set employees up for long-term success. Build in hard and soft skills training, encourage mentorship, and optimize the remote work experience. Communicate your expectations clearly, but also inform them of what they need to do to advance in the organization.
Offer Long-Term Professional Development for Associates
For future-minded firms, associates are the lynchpin. To attract and retain talented lawyers, firms need to guarantee them the training and experiences needed to progress in their careers at large, not just at your organization. This might involve, as some firms have started to do, offering alternatives to partner tracks that allow associates to progress even if they either don’t want, or aren’t cut out for, the traditional partnership model.
Commit to Greater Transparency
Embracing pay transparency is key. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in four workers will be covered by some form of pay transparency legislation in 2023. Combatting any pushback will involve committing to the employee experience. Leading employers will focus on helping employees create and protect boundaries by managing working hours and increasing flexibility. Employers who show they are mindful of their employees’ well-being will be rewarded with good work, retention, and sustained productivity.
To take a line from a recent Thompson Reuters study, the call to employers this year should be: “stay focused.” Times of economic, political, and social uncertainty call for a focus on a holistic, long-term strategy. By continually monitoring and responding to shifts and changes in the industry, employers can keep the focus needed to face present challenges while preparing for future ones.
About The Author
Camille Stell is the President of Lawyers Mutual Consulting & Services and the co-author of Designing A Succession Plan for Your Law Practice: A Step-by-Step Guide for Preparing and Packaging Your Firm for Maximum Value. Continue this conversation by contacting Camille at email@example.com or 800.662.8843.