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Staff surveys and the bigger picture

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In 2012, Fieldfisher’s HR director Graham de Guise suggested that one of the biggest issues preoccupying the firm was: “How you treat people in a recession will determine how many people stay with you in an upturn.”  It appears that now is the time, for most firms, to find out.

The results of the 2014 Legal Week Intelligence Employee Satisfaction Report were released this month with some interesting changes. As the shoots of recovery established themselves and the legal recruitment market showed a definitive upturn from last summer, eyes are now turning to external opportunities.  A significant 21% of respondents said that they are looking to move from their current firms, an annual increase of one percentage point. Those in the technology and telecoms sector are most likely to be looking for a new role (30%), while those in pensions are the least likely (10%).

Whilst staff are happier with their pay and benefits than they were last year it appears that bonuses remain the biggest source of frustration for employees, with respondents giving their firms an average satisfaction score of just 5 out of 10.

Interestingly, softer HR issues remain the most important factors for fee earners. These include ‘being valued by the firm’, ‘work-life balance’ and ‘treatment by partners’, which take first, second and third place in the rankings for the second year in succession.

Firms should take note that “employee engagement” is now a popular way to monitor the health of your staff relationships. This buzz phrase is defined by Andrew Dine as “those (employees) that go the extra mile to do a great job, who show a “passion for work” and whose grasp of their role goes beyond mere “satisfaction”. Simply put, they go the extra mile for you.” Understanding what matters to your staff, (how they feel about working with and for your partners, which issues are important to them), allows you to ensure that your workforce moves together in a cohesive, purposeful manner to take advantage of the economic recovery and increase the profitability of your firm.

Indeed, Engaging for Success (July 2009) produced by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills, emphasised that without employee engagement all the well meaning HR policies in the world, let alone investment in technology, marketing and innovation, will fail to deliver sustained competitive advantage.

Committing to and partaking in a staff survey enables your firm to clearly see how your staff perceive you as an employer. They’ll tell you what you do well and where you need to improve in order to retain their talent and attract new, well matched employees in the future.

However, simply taking the results of a staff survey on board isn’t a magic bullet. Deciding what you can and can’t do to encourage engagement and increase satisfaction amongst your employees takes time and careful handling. Each firm will have its own culture and its own make up in terms of age, gender and philosophy, making it a unique entity. An alignment between your firm’s strategic plan and your operational plan needs to be palpable. What survey results will indicate is how to bring your staff with you, as a cohort, on that journey.

By this we mean that your staff need the tools in place to implement the operational plan that will ultimately lead you to succeed in fulfilling your strategic plan. Giving your staff the right learning and development opportunities so that they successfully make a difference to the firm is good for business and good for career paths.

Assuming that the management team are committed to this next step, one should consider if they too have the right skills at their disposal. Are your partners good communicators? Do they listen to and value their team members? Do they have a clear understanding of the firm’s strategy and how their team fits into it? Are they leaders and do they motivate others and influence their daily working (best) practices by words and deeds?

A staff survey will allow you to understand these issues better. At this point, your plan to monitor the above so that you can build upon or modify certain goals or tactics in a timely fashion will support the successful implementation of the firm’s plans. But that’s a wonderfully sweeping statement and certainly a thought for another time!

Law League can help your firm to set up your own staff survey, complete with anonymous benchmarking, to initiate the process. As ever, you can contact us on 0117 325 0200 or via