Managing employee happiness

We spend a large proportion of our lives at work and therefore it is vital that we are happy in what we do.

What makes us happy in the workplace can vary from the type of work we do and our relationships with colleagues through to flexible hours and benefits packages. Yet Badenoch & Clark’s latest Happiness at Work Index has shown that money also plays a key role in our attitudes to work – and an even
greater role in the legal sector.

Nearly two-thirds (64 per cent) of lawyers and law firm staff are happy in the workplace, and when it comes to money almost a third (30 per cent) believe they are paid above the average salary for their role. This is a higher percentage than in any other professional sector.

However, while money can determine an individual’s happiness, one of the more important influences employers should examine is the management style of the firm’s managers. A boss’s management technique can have an enormous impact on overall happiness in the workplace. Across the UK 46 per cent of office workers have supportive bosses who work alongside their employees to get the best out of them.

However, more than a fifth of workers have directive bosses, who tell them how and when to do something. The latter style of management can demotivate employees and needs to be addressed. Management styles range from dictatorial bosses to more democratic approaches. But bosses need to be aware of their styles and be able to tailor them to different situations and levels.

In private practice it is often found that bosses adapt their leadership styles from a teaching-based method for trainee solicitors to more of a coaching and encouraging technique as individuals move up the career ladder.

When an individual reaches would-be partner level, their seniors often encourage them to be part of the decision-making process, egging them to work with their colleagues to create the vision of where a practice is going.

It is often assumed that partners are not naturally affiliative, but in reality teams of partners are often found bonding with their colleagues over after-work drinks and lunches. They see, and more importantly understand, the importance of building the team through quality leadership and direction while encouraging collegiality and participation in growing a practice.

When it comes to in-house teams, however, the style needed from managers is slightly different, where their main challenge is making sure the team feels integrated and part of the company they are working for and not just a bolt-on function.

In-house managers often need to take on a more authoritative style in their approach, whereby the vision and objectives for the company are created by the leaders and then put upon employees. The main challenge for the manager is that employees have little, if any, say in how the business is run and often feel that their voice is not recognised.

However, regardless of whether you are a manager in-house or in a private practice, there are some simple steps that managers can take to change their management styles to improve the happiness of their employees, such as listening to their employees likes and dislikes through to finding out why people leave the company.

Feedback should be an integral part of any manager’s style. Not only does it provide an opportunity to communicate with employees, it also encourages satisfaction and development if handled correctly.

Bosses need to provide their employees with regular constructive feedback, but in fact 15 per cent of legal workers still receive critical and unbalanced feedback. By being constructive in their feedback and setting personal, achievable goals, bosses are able to improve an individual’s confidence and encourage them to perform better.

Alison Burgin, head of legal recruitment, Badenoch & Clark