Engaged tone

What a difference a year of mass job cuts makes. A year ago YouGov’s first legal sector employee engagement survey revealed a chasm between the level of engagement felt by lawyers and business services staff, with the latter feeling undervalued, underpaid and out of the loop.

Yet after a year of widespread job cuts, which ­support staff have borne the brunt of, business ­services staff have become more engaged. As our lead story reveals, the gulf between fee-earners and business services staff has narrowed, with the engagement score for support staff rising, while the ­fee-earners’ score has remained largely unchanged.

Admittedly the percentage value of the change is hardly dramatic, but the implications are. A year ago support staff felt they were largely invisible within their firms, and that feeling of being ­undervalued was reflected in their sense of ­motivation, loyalty and pride in their firms. But, given that many will have survived a ­redundancy consultation in the past 12 months, can the increase in ­engagement really be attributed to a surge in ­loyalty? Or, given the uncertainty in the job market, have they become engaged as a means of survival?

In reality the latter is most likely. As the boss of one firm that has been through a redundancy round says: “When businesses experience rocky times, people are bound to become more engaged. It’s only when the wheels come off that people realise you have to be engaged to be able to compete.”

While support staff are knuckling down to show their commitment to their firms, junior lawyers’ partnership expectations make for ­alarming reading.

Bearing in mind the YouGov survey was carried out after most firms had announced their ­promotions, it seems incredible that the percentage of people who believe they will make partner has gone up. It would be easy to put this down to the ­arrogance of having survived redundancies, but given that the desirability of secondments (a ­crucial factor in the route to partnership) has ­fallen, ­confusion is a more likely explanation.

Expectations need to be managed and, given that just 50 per cent of the survey respondents scored their firms positively on internal ­communication, how they are managed will be crucial.
margaret.taylor@thelawyer.com