Addressing the Emerging Cultural Crisis in the Legal Industry

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers and employees have increasingly realized the value of a more supportive, inclusive and balanced workplace culture. However, some sectors are struggling to maintain this focus two years into the pandemic, raising concerns about recruitment and retention.

A new study from the CIPD Workplace Health and Wellbeing Report 2022 shows nearly half of employees strongly agree that workplace health and wellbeing activities encourage a more inclusive. However, the same report reveals that there has been a 16% drop in management attention to workplace health and wellbeing compared to the first year of the pandemic.

The legal industry is one that historically prides itself on hard work and perfectionism – values ​​that should not be at odds with the corporate culture that promotes inclusivity, support and work-life balance. personal. However, with vacancies at an all-time high and 24% of working adults in the UK looking to change jobs in the next three to six months, the legal industry needs to make sure not only to support efforts of the pandemic era to embed these values, but to reinforce them now.

According to the CIPD, 79% of people reported a stress-related absence in the past year, with this figure rising to 90% in large organizations. Similarly, nearly 25% of organizations now cite COVID-19-related anxiety among their top three causes of workplace stress.

However, employees whose organizations take a strategic approach to wellness are almost twice as likely to believe they have a healthy and inclusive culture. So it’s clear that law firms that promote a culture that prioritizes mental and physical health are in the best position to lessen the impact of the much-talked-about “big quit.”

The importance of business services leaders in fostering this positive culture is evident. Today, senior business services professionals are increasingly serving on the board of directors of law firms, and the primary responsibility for fostering a healthy company culture typically falls to the human resources manager or chief resource officer. human.

In addition to promoting people’s culture, HR leaders are often responsible for well-being, diversity and inclusion. It’s no surprise, then, that recent research from Totum Partners found that 73% of law firms are looking to increase headcount in business services, including HR, in the coming year.

In fact, Totum’s 2022′The Top Business Leader Awards were created to recognize business services leaders who are at the center of their company’s leadership agenda, shaping the business with respect to people, customers, technology, management financial, marketing and much more.

Businesses across the economy have rightly been taking a closer look at their diversity and inclusion strategies for many years and the legal industry is no exception.

Major progress has been made in the sector, but there is still work to be done to address historical conceptions of the legal industry such as one where women and minorities are not fairly represented. Fortunately, things are starting to change. In fact, Totum’s 2022 Diversity Report revealed that our number of female applicants increased to 60% and that the number of Black/Black British applicants also increased by 5% compared to the previous year.

Today, companies that fail to recognize this imperative and embed D&I values ​​within their organization face detrimental ripple effects on corporate culture. Additionally, a study by McKinsey & Company found that culturally and ethnically diverse companies are 33% more likely to earn above-average profits – with customers and employees voting with their feet when companies fail to live up to these values.

Moreover, it is no longer enough for companies to simply improve their D&I strategies, but must also seek to address the unique pressures of minorities in the workplace, especially those who have experienced setbacks as a result of the pandemic. Totum’s 2022 Hybrid Work Report found that 30% of workers surveyed believe burnout is a negative consequence of hybrid working, which is now a norm in many industries.

Importantly, Deloitte’s 2022 “Women @ Work” report showed that women from minority ethnic groups are more likely to suffer from job burnout than those who are not from a minority group. Similarly, only 27% of ethnic minority women said they felt comfortable citing mental health issues as a reason for absence, compared to 41% of majority ethnic women.

It is therefore clear that well-being, diversity and inclusion are intimately linked. So it’s good news that 73% of organizations that have employee wellness strategies want to promote inclusion and diversity training.

As businesses seek to navigate the post-pandemic landscape, it’s impossible to ignore the absolute centrality of inclusivity to a supportive and successful corporate culture, with a recent CIIA survey noting that by leveraging D&I initiatives in the workplace, companies will see increased revenue and employee happiness, resulting in increased productivity, engagement and retention.

Remote or hybrid working styles have become commonplace for many companies over the past couple of years, but patterns vary across the industry.

Our “Great Return” report reveals that a strong majority would like to work in the office between 50% and 60% of the time, the rest from home.

Increased flexibility and working from home have been liberating for many legal sector workers, however, for some the lack of face-to-face time in the office has led to an increase in cases as the boundaries between home and office are blurry. Interestingly, CIPD research shows that “presenteeism” (people working when sick) is now 15% higher among those who work from home.

Thus, it is perhaps to be expected that Totum’s 2022 Hybrid Work Report found that 52% of people found a disconnect with company culture to be a significantly negative consequence of hybrid working.

This finding was even more pronounced among female workers, with 35% of women feeling disconnected from the corporate culture and 42% feeling isolated from their team, compared to only 27% and 31% of men respectively, making inclusivity a priority for hybrid working to succeed. .

As law firms seek to foster stronger, more supportive and more inclusive corporate cultures in the wake of COVID, it seems clear that striking the right balance for workers between flexible working and in-person connection at the workplace.

It is clear that senior business services executives, who have a key influence on corporate culture, now have an increased responsibility to implement healthy work practices and foster an environment in which employees feel safe and supported. Those who embed these values ​​into the corporate culture will be set to thrive in the post-pandemic era, with their workplaces being the top choice for industry talent.

Deborah Gray is founding director of Totum Partners