FOSTERING A HEALTHY WORK-LIFE BALANCE
Initially, law firms may have worried that a lack of in-person monitoring would lead to teams working fewer hours while at home. Instead, one 2020 survey found 45% of professionals regularly work more hours during the week than before the pandemic, while another showed employees spend 10% more time logged in every week.
This over-work, compounded by uncertainty, led to the addition of “burnout” to the American vocabulary. Last year, on average, 89% of full-time U.S. employees reported experiencing burnout while working remotely.
Due to the nonstop nature of the profession, attorneys and legal staffers were already familiar with feelings of exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress that define burnout. More than two-thirds of firm leaders who responded to our survey reported personally experiencing burnout since the pandemic began.
“Make changes based on employee suggestions and expert advice, including setting boundaries on when and how clients — and even colleagues — can communicate.”
Unfortunately, most leaders also told us less than 10% of their employees reported burnout. We suspect that’s because firms aren’t proactively addressing the issue and must instead create a safe environment for communication about burnout and mental health. Send anonymous surveys, host webinars with mental-health experts and be frank about your own struggles. Then make changes based on employee suggestions and expert advice, including setting boundaries on when and how clients — and even colleagues — can communicate.
The bottom line: Open conversation is the difference-maker for employee retention and business success. While overall, 95% of firms reported to us that they were optimistic about their long-term futures, that number dropped to 66% among leaders who were unsure how many employees had reported burnout.
STRUGGLING TO CONNECT? THINK SMALLER
Routine workplace conversations — what one new study calls “relational communication” — naturally have suffered in the hybrid workplace. The effects: loneliness and feelings of isolation; a decrease in social support from the workplace community; and a higher threshold to contact with colleagues, among others.
The solution: Think smaller. Employees in Microsoft’s study spent more time communicating and therefore built stronger connections with members of their immediate team. And 33% of firms with two to five employees in our study actually reported a positive effect from COVID — the environment bolstered all-hands-on-deck camaraderie.
Help teams connect in smaller groups related to mutual interests — like pets or sports teams — via internal communication tools. Assign official mentors to new employees and encourage employees to form their own informal mentorships.
And — relying on your firm’s legal calendaring tool — schedule an in-person reunion. (For example, at Smokeball, we’re in the midst of planning our second annual Homecoming week.)
The bottom line: Hybrid workplace communications are inherently different from in-person. By reuniting around common interests and goals — supporting your community, your clients and one another — you can strengthen your firm for the long-term.