The Covid 19 pandemic has redefined the ways we live and work. It has caused millions of people to reassess their relationship to their jobs and has unmasked the deep unhappiness that many Americans have with the inherent structure of employer/employee relations. In fact, the “Great Resignation” has been dominating headlines since 2020 and most business owners have had direct experience with the shrinking labor market. We’re seeing prolonged periods of unfilled job vacancies and a larger pool of inexperienced candidates. For many, this has resulted in being understaffed, leaving remaining team members overwhelmed, overworked and for some burned out. No wonder hiring and retaining quality team members this last year has been so tough!
According to people analytics firm Visier, at least 1 in 4 people quit their job in 2021, and Gallup reported that 2/3 of employees are unengaged or completely disengaged. What has your turnover rate been the last two years? How engaged is your team?
A significant contributing factor to this development has been employees reevaluating the role that “work” has in their lives. The great resignation has also been called the great reshuffling because people are not finding fulfillment in their work and are searching for a greater sense of purpose, freedom and flexibility.
With this changing labor market, the question then becomes, how can your business become indispensable in the lives of your team members? It is important to consider how a business is an asset and benefit to its employees. This means developing an understanding of the human needs we all have and ensuring we provide a culture and environment that fulfills them.
Consider the following team retention strategies:
- Alignment with Core Values: Core Values are the beliefs and principles that guide your law firm and employees. They influence the way a business interacts with clients, the community, centers of influence, partners, and team members. These core values must align with your culture to create a positive environment where your employees feel listened to and that their opinion matters.
Does your firm have clearly outlined Core Values? Does your team know what they are?
Do they embrace these values? When you hire people who are in alignment with your mission and core values, you’re building a team that can row in the same direction and feel connected to each other.
For more on Core Values, read, “Cutting to Your Core: How Your Values Define You.”
- Purpose: When your team members walk in the door each morning, do they know, without a doubt, that they do work that matters? Do they feel like they are making a positive impact and contributing to a greater good in the world? If so, you’ve nailed the challenge of making your team feel appreciated, respected and inspired to do their best work.
If not, how do you think your team members feel when they start work each morning? How motivated are they to go the extra mile or take on a new project? Without a feeling of purpose, it’s just hard work and every challenge is taxing. There is no reward for effort besides a paycheck. A LinkedIn survey states that 65% of employees would accept lower pay over dealing with a poor work environment.
Your post-pandemic staffing strategy should start by having conversations with your team and asking how they feel about their roles and their futures.
Take the input from your team and revisit job descriptions. How can you align responsibilities and purpose with people’s strengths? Then develop a vision for each valued team member and how they fit into future plans of the firm to progress their career goals. Lastly, look at how your team is acknowledged on a regular basis. When we’re working hard and going the extra mile, we need to feel we’re doing something valuable and that our time on this planet matters.
- Personal Growth and Mental Stimulation: We all want to feel that we’re growing, learning and able to take on bigger challenges that provide mental stimulation. In fact, growth and learning can be components of your core values so they are infused in your culture. If your team members feel like they’ve mastered their role and are not learning anything new or growing personally, boredom can take over and they’ll look for a job elsewhere that will provide the growth and challenge they seek.
- Workload: Do you know what and how much is on each of your employee’s plates? What metrics do you review to understand what the production capacity is for each role and what your current volume is? If you’re understaffed and your team is absorbing the work of those vacant positions, how are they feeling? What is their stress level? Are they keeping up or are they overwhelmed? What are they telling you? How do you take a pulse? Prolonged stress can lead to underperformance, burnout and employee departures, regardless of how passionate someone is. When you couple the overwhelm at work with other personal and home stressors caused by the pandemic, it can take a toll on mental, physical and emotional well-being. What are some things you can do to regularly take care of your existing team’s needs?
- Compensation: While compensation is not a top reason people leave, it is important to stay competitive in your marketplace. If you want to keep and attract the right talent, research what your competitors are paying. Give your team a raise if needed. It can be tough to compete with large firms who can afford to pay higher wages, however, a small firm can offer other benefits/perks, including more fulfillment and purpose in their work. However, the other factors above play a much bigger role than money in your ability to retain your team.
In the pre-covid world, employers had the upper hand. Posting a job online would yield an abundance of applicant resumes. These days, finding quality applicants is tough. The quality of candidates has decreased and it’s taking much longer to find the right people.
To continue along a growth track and keep our sanity, a paradigm shift around hiring and staffing is needed. Just because we’ve always built our team and organizational structure in a specific way that suited our needs, doesn’t mean a new model won’t be more effective. In fact, if we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll keep getting the same results.
As you review the ideas below, think about how they could assist you with your post-pandemic staffing strategy.
- Revisit roles and responsibilities. After revisiting roles with your existing team, you may find that a reshuffling of responsibilities presents opportunities for new positions that can be easier to hire for, such as some of the others on this list.
- Hiring is a marketing job. Your job ads should speak to applicants about their opportunities and why they want to work for you vs. a long list of duties. Include your Core Values, share about your culture, discuss the learning and growth mindset of the firm. Use emotion vs. strictly logical facts.
- Outsource. What responsibilities could you outsource to relieve some pressure from your existing team? Hiring independent workers is getting easier as they quit their 9 to 5 jobs in favor of the flexibility that freelancing provides. If you’re understaffed, it’s much more difficult to find the time to work on projects and goals. Find people to outsource your project work to, so you have time to do the important work you must do yourselves. An increasing number of Academy Members are finding freelance paralegals to provide support as well.
- Offer Remote Jobs and Go National. Expand your search and look for candidates in other cities and states. Covid taught us that remote work can be manageable and productive. Another bonus, if you’re in a high cost of living area with higher wages, you can pay remote employees in other areas a lower wage than you would locally.
- Use a recruiter. While this is an expensive option, a recruiter will have more resources to devote to your employee search. If you’re busy and trying to fit hiring in, it’s easy to make a tired and desperate hiring decision – sending a job offer to the wrong candidate. A recruiter will qualify candidates before you even meet them, saving you time and minimizing the chances of a wrong hire.
- Look for comparable skills in other industries. With the great reshuffling, people are looking for opportunities in new industries. There are some great paralegals out there in the making. Therefore, focus on the skills and alignment with core values over their legal experience.
- Referrals. Share about your position opening with your community. Send an email to your client and professional database with a link to your job post. Share about it on social media. And, ask your employees to also spread the word. However, don’t limit your search to only word of mouth referrals, as that could significantly reduce your options leading to biased hiring decisions.
While you may not be able to outcompete every law firm in your community for the top talent, your firm does not have to be a turnover statistic. Start by identifying what needs to be done to improve your employee retention strategies. Talk to your team and make the appropriate shifts to create a culture where people see themselves for the long-term. Create opportunities for professional and personal growth. Make work/life balance a priority. Revisit your perks and benefits to add more flexibility. And, finally, ensure everyone feels purposeful and knows they provide value.
Practice Leadership Coach
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (858) 453-2128
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