AS HUMAN resources managers in law firms stumble over each other to throw goodies and benefits at staff in an attempt to ensure adequate work/life balance, only a small proportion of those on the receiving end actually appreciate all the buffers, according to a recent survey.
In fact, the study found, lawyers and their support staff are more interested in bigger picture benefits, such as feeling valued in their work.
People cannot be bought with massages, mental health days, yoga and movie tickets, a survey by LINK Recruitment has revealed. While firms get caught up in providing the latest trendy benefits, they have forgotten to actually ask their employees what type of benefits they would like, according to LINK Recruitment director Steve Roberts.
In an interview with Lawyers Weekly, he said that what people actually want is flexibility of hours and benefits that will make their lives better.
“While massages and other tangible benefits work well when linked to employee needs, our recruitment experience shows that staff are more concerned with bigger picture issues such as feeling valued and challenged in their work rather than gimmicks,” he said.
But according to Peter Gosden, Sydney manager at Hughes-Castell, these sorts of buffer benefits are just icing on the cake. Proper benefits that are useful to lawyers are much more prevalent, including flexible hours. However, larger law firms do this much better because they can afford to have people working more flexibly, he said.
The survey revealed that law firms are finding new and unusual ways to improve their employees’ work/life balances. Research showed that one law firm offered fruit baskets to lawyers who worked late, rather than meals, in an attempt to encourage the lawyers to eventually head home and have a meal with their families, Roberts said.
Another firm allowed a senior associate who usually worked three days a week the opportunity to work flexible hours when her children started going to school. So that she could pick her children up from school, it was arranged that she would start work at seven and finish at 2.30, four days a week.
Flexibility of hours was realised as an important element of work/life balance, Roberts said. “When you deal with work/life balance, you need to treat people as individuals. Use the firm’s policy as a guideline, but then appropriate it for each person,” he said.
Some firms also offer rotation for junior solicitors, rather than making them stay in one area, Roberts said. A lot of junior lawyers benefit greatly because they have experience in different areas, something that both Allens Arthur Robinson and Henry Davis York, among others, offer.
The survey revealed that there is a growing trend for health-based benefits such as mental health days and subsidised gyms, yoga and massages. But sometimes this may not be what is required or wanted by staff.
“There is no point offering subsidised gym memberships if employees would prefer to spend a couple of days a year volunteering at their favourite charity instead,” Roberts said.
According to LINK Recruitment, law firms should listen to their employees and make benefits relevant to them. There should be a holistic approach to managing productive workplaces. They “need to constantly review the relevancy of the benefits they offer to their staff to get the most value,” Roberts said.