Driving towards a better workplace

Increasingly sophisticated competitive forces in the global professional services arena, together with indications that the death of the hourly billing arrangement is nigh, are driving a relentless search for improved productivity to maintain and enhance high levels of profitability.

Because of this, lawyers are now in the blessed position of being contactable night and day, wherever they may be.

Stress levels are soaring, not only in the high-flying executives but in the less senior staff, who have been caught in the headlights of "progress".

This fixation with profitability is leading to rationalisation and even cannibalism in the workplace, even during buoyant economic conditions.

Lawyers are also witnessing the development of an ugly and divisive phenomenon, far more corrosive to organisational morale than recession – the fear of being ousted, even though competent (but less so than the immediate colleague or even a "better looking" external candidate).

Unless we maintain a perspective on this obsessive drive for "super-profits" and even greater efficiency, I believe ultimately we will impair our productivity, harmony, equilibrium and above all, the trust of our colleagues.

What an indictment of our age that legislation rather than enlightened management is needed to support the workforce's quest for balance through working time regulations, flexible working patterns and family-friendly policies.

We must fundamentally rethink our approach if we are to make any significant headway in the problems we are creating for ourselves.

But what is required? A reappraisal of the workplace from the individual's viewpoint? An assessment of motivational triggers and intrinsic values while maintaining a sensible though not myopic focus on profitability?

What is certain is that radical approaches are required, such as spending real time with your client other than on chargeable matters or even trusting staff by supporting flexible home working arrangements.

The sceptics may foretell organisational dysfunction but if this brave radicalism helps us acknowledge and support a working population – now fully reliant on the female sex and indeed the better for this – whose motivation may be tempered by lifestyle considerations, it may reap rich rewards both extrinsic and intrinsic.

These approaches are not necessarily new and may seem out of character with the driven, entrepreneurial and highly-successful environment in which we all work.

But as we prepare to celebrate the millennium and enter a phase of self congratulation on our progress to date, I believe we should lift our eyes from the driving pedals to the road ahead and contemplate the best route forward.