Lawyers are happiest white-collar workers

Research into levels of employee satisfaction among UK white-collar workers found that nearly a quarter are unhappy at work. This equates to around 6.9 million office professionals seriously dissatisfied with their jobs and possibly contemplating a change of employer, or even profession. What may be surprising to many is that lawyers were found to be the UK’s happiest white-collar workers compared with any other professions, including finance and accounting, sales and marketing, IT and telecoms and HR.

Too many employers and employees focus on salaries and financial benefits as the ultimate path to professional satisfaction, but by taking this out of the equation it is revealing to see what other factors impact on an employee’s happiness. Some may consider generous pay packages in the legal sector as compensation for long working hours, hierarchical management structures or stiflingly traditional work environments. However, law firms are clearly getting it right on many other levels.

For example, 60 per cent of office workers who participated in recruiter Badenoch & Clark’s research say they are far happier working for a female boss. Law firms have among the highest percentage of female bosses – nearly half (47 per cent) compared with finance and accounting (33 per cent), sales and marketing (42 per cent) or IT and telecoms (21 per cent).

All office workers cited the importance of supportive senior management and the feeling of personal responsibility and decision-making. Only 22 per cent of lawyers across the UK say they have a directive boss (being told how and when to do a task). The remaining 78 per cent say they are able to make their own decisions or work for senior partners who extend reasonable levels of trust and autonomy. Again this ranks far more favourably than most other white-collar professions, where the majority of employees are delegated to or given no responsibility.

Work hours are often a huge bone of contention among employees, and lawyers are no exception to this rule. The flexibility to work from home or on their own schedules is incredibly popular among office workers and is a significant factor in how happy people are in their jobs. Unsurprisingly, very few lawyers are able to work from home.

However, the research has dispelled the myth that lawyers work the longest hours, finding that the majority of the legal industry works relatively fixed hours of 9am to 6pm. Only 13 per cent say they are often expected to get in early and stay late – relatively low compared with sales and marketing (28 per cent), IT and telecoms (18 per cent) and HR (18 per cent).

One perception of lawyers corroborated by the research is the habit of socialising among themselves. Lawyers have the most friends at work compared with any other white-collar profession. Around two-thirds say between one and five colleagues are considered genuine friends and almost a fifth have up to 10 friends – more than any other white-collar profession. This has a significant impact on lawyers’ happiness at work, as they come to view their firms as friendly environments rather than just a place of work. While lawyers are the happiest workers in the UK, employers in the legal sector are nevertheless more than aware that it is still an incredibly candidate-short market. Attracting and retaining talent is one of the biggest challenges facing firms, particularly in markets where skills are in high demand, such as commercial property, planning and corporate. It is essential that firms understand what motivates and enthuses their workforces beyond mere salaries and bonuses. In the war for talent most competitors will offer similar financial packages and employees will scrutinise the more intangible perks, such as work environments, management style and opportunities to work more flexibly.