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Law firms have to constantly evolve to attract talent and meet the needs of current and prospective employees. In the realm of employment perks and benefits, experts say these successful firms of the future will promote agile working practices and focus on the wellbeing of their employees.
Mary Bonsor, co-founder of F-Lex, argues that attitudes towards perks depend on generational differences. Increasingly, Bonsor claims, Generation Z seems interested in benefits other than simply pay. ‘Remuneration seems less important,’ Bonsor says, ‘but flexibility and allowing employees to pursue courses at the same time have taken on a novel importance.’
Debbie Holmes, director of human resources at Sackers, agrees with Bonsor: ‘The next generation of lawyers is looking for much more flexibility on working practices and to benefit from initiatives that give them more control over their working hours and working location.’
Experts suggest that companies should encourage this shift towards flexibility. ‘Agile working practices,’ Holmes argues, ‘will remain at the forefront of the next generation of lawyers’ minds, and firms should be prepared to receive an increasing number of requests from lawyers looking for something different from the five-day office-bound week’.
Agile working has the additional benefit of promoting employee wellbeing, which serves both employee and employer. As Alison Unsted, head of global diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at Hogan Lovells, says: ‘Giving people more control over how they manage their home-life with their career has been linked with increased positive health behaviours. Historically, the lack of flexibility/work-life balance was perceived to be an issue for retention of women in the workplace, but we have learnt it is just as important for men too.
It is unsurprising that wellbeing has become a focal point in the perks and benefits offered by law firms. Unsted cites a recent student opinion survey, for example, which shows that 93% of students cited that ‘managing a healthy lifestyle’ was one of the most important factors when considering their future careers. Law firms seeking to attract the best talent, therefore, have to propose perks that promote the wellbeing of the employee.
This could take the form, as Bonsor suggests, of ‘holistic practices as part of employment, such as discounts on gym membership and yoga lessons at the end of the day’.
Holmes offers a similar message: ‘At Sackers, we offer quarterly free massages to staff and weekly pilates sessions. It is difficult to quantify the exact return on these sorts of benefits, but it certainly contributes to the culture of a firm—one that cares for more than simply the work output of any individual.’
Experts claim that better wellbeing results in better productivity. Unsted argues, for example, that when ‘employees are feeling healthy, they perform better, and they have the resilience and ability to cope with the demands of work’.
Law firms have to take a proactive stance on wellbeing. Thus alongside agile and flexible working practices, Unsted says, Hogan Lovells have adopted bold measures to improve employee wellbeing: ‘We have taken a proactive integrated approach to our wellbeing programme, developing a framework with four main areas of focus—physical, social, mental and emotional, and work environment. Under each of the areas we have developed a programme of activity and suite of benefits, including on-site counselling, on-site gym, wellbeing weeks, steps challenges, summer walking clubs, health MOTs, mindfulness, and much more—all of which are hugely popular with our people.’
Bonsor argues that failing to look after an employee’s wellbeing can cause ‘burn out and stress, which leads to employee dissatisfaction and eventually them leaving or having a breakdown’.
Unsted similarly emphasises the importance of supporting employees: ‘Law firms need to offer a wide range of benefits to meet the diverse needs of their people. The aim is to ensure there is something for everyone, taking into account the multigenerational workforce with differing requirements and lifestyle needs.’
It is also important, Unsted says, to communicate with employees regarding their needs: ‘We seek feedback from our people to ensure that we can focus on what they feel will be relevant to them. For example, as part of our flexible benefits programme we offer employees the opportunity to purchase additional holiday and for some employees to take an unpaid sabbatical. Most recently, we have increased the focus on financial education in response to a growing demand from employees for this offering.’
Improving the wellbeing of employees, Unsted says, is an important and constantly evolving area for law firms of the future: ‘As the make-up of our people changes over time, as a firm we need to ensure that we are agile in our response, so that our benefit offering continues to attract and retain talent.’
The views expressed by our Legal Analysis interviewees are not necessarily those of the proprietor.
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