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How to conduct a temperature check on your law firm’s culture

A temperature check will allow firms to understand their current company culture and identify any areas that need improvement, writes Stuart Taylor.

user iconStuart Taylor 14 July 2022 SME Law
Stuart Taylor
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The last two years have highlighted the importance of workplace culture. As we emerge from the worst of the pandemic, our workforce is experiencing collective fatigue. More than ever, employees need to feel supported by their employers and secure in their workplaces. The tight labour market has made staff retention increasingly important, which is why it’s now crucial for leaders to ensure their organisations build and maintain a positive culture.

This is particularly true for the legal industry, in which toxic workplace cultures are all too common — often leading to high levels of stress, burnout and mental ill-health amongst lawyers.

For many firms, developing a workplace culture where employees feel psychologically safe takes time. A great workplace culture not only retains staff but also creates a productive and motivated workforce, promoting creativity and innovation among team members, and increasing employee performance.


But before implementing initiatives to improve a working environment, it’s important to first conduct a temperature check on your company’s culture to identify its strengths and weaknesses and understand what needs to change.

Employee mental health and productivity are the two key areas that will suffer most in a toxic working culture. Employee mental health is how your employees show up each day, how they feel, whether they are motivated and engaged, and how they connect with others. Employee productivity is how often your employees show initiative, whether they provide creative or innovative ideas, whether they are focused, the quality of their output, and whether they are managing their time well.

To gauge whether staff are struggling with their mental health, how regularly are they taking sick days? How is their attitude or general mood — has it deteriorated since they started at the firm? Are they connecting with others in the team? If your workforce is remote or hybrid, do they show up on Zoom? If so, how do they appear? Do they contribute to meetings? Are they online for excessive hours?

In terms of employee productivity, are staff contributing creatively? Are they engaged with their work? Have they been innovative with their ideas? Do they share their opinion in meetings? Do they appear overwhelmed with their workload? How are they managing their workload? Are they completing their work?

If staff appear to not be coping, it may signal a toxic workplace. In a healthy environment, workers will feel open to speak freely, ask for help, and share ideas. There will be a sense of team cohesion and collaboration and positive working relationships among staff. If a team is divided, afraid to share ideas, or lacks engagement in their work, change may be needed within the culture.

Staff retention levels are one of the most obvious signs of an unhealthy culture. A high employee turnover rate is costly and reflects poorly on a firm, as it’s often driven by a toxic working environment. If an employee has recently given notice of their resignation, consider conducting an exit interview to ask questions about how the employee felt throughout their time at the firm. This may be a useful opportunity for leaders to understand their culture from a staff member’s perspective.

Another tool for leaders to understand how their employees view their company culture is to research their business ratings on job sites such as Indeed or Glassdoor. These sites allow for past or present employees to rate their experience working for a company. Like an exit interview, employers will be able to hear staff member experiences to determine where their culture may require change.

To find the gaps in a culture, firms must look at what they offer staff in terms of mental health initiatives, how they promote team collaboration and connection, and where there is room for improvement. What initiatives are offered to staff who are struggling? Are there regular staff meetings to connect, share ideas, or collaborate? Have employees raised issues in the past — if so, how can these be prevented from happening again? Consider asking employees what initiatives they would like to see within the firm to improve their experience. This will provide insight into the areas that need improvement, making it easier for leaders to decide what to change and implement going forward.

When taking a workplace culture temperature, here is the checklist to follow:

  • Check in on staff’s collective and individual mental health;
  • Pay attention to levels of productivity, creativity and collaboration;
  • Examine staff retention levels;
  • Check company ratings; and
  • Review company well-being initiatives and understand gaps.
A temperature check will allow firms to understand their current company culture and identify any areas that need improvement. From an informed viewpoint, leaders can address any issues within the workplace and effectively make changes to improve their organisation, team member experience, and staff performance in the future.

Stuart Taylor is the chief executive and founder of Springfox.

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