My Family Care asks Julie: When the work/life balance hasn't worked, how can employees be supported through personal and professional changes that benefit both the employee and the company?
Supporting employees in a top law firm
Enlightened companies embrace the concept of supporting employees in achieving a work/life balance, recognising that it is both the right thing to do and makes sound business sense.
The recruitment, retention and engagement of talented employees is the life-blood of law firms; and offering practical and meaningful support in managing professional and personal change is a true measure of a firm's commitment to its staff.
People skills and business sense
At BLP we offer, where feasible, flexible working arrangements and/or a phased return to work to help both our male and female lawyers achieve a work/life balance. Flexible working arrangements are reviewed after six months but if at any stage a lawyer feels they are not working, they can seek to review them with the partners in their team and with HR.
Changes to working patterns can be made either on a permanent basis or for the period of time that they requires extra flexibility.
Another means of support is confidential maternity coaching. As an internal coach, I offer sessions before our lawyers go on maternity leave, during their time away from the office and after they return to work. We offer coaching to support women in reaching decisions about their work/life balance and if required, in seeking changes where an arrangement isn't working. In those sessions we cover how to hand over work effectively and how to keep in touch and up-to-date whilst away.
The firm offers up to 10 paid Keeping in Touch days during maternity leave which we find helps our lawyers stay connected with the firm and make a smooth transition back to work. Later sessions include a confidential discussion on flexible working arrangements prior to the submission of a formal request and consideration of how well arrangements are working 6-8 weeks after lawyers return to work.
If employees would like to speak to someone externally, we also offer confidential counseling through our Employee Assistance Programme.
What's on offer
Benefits such as enhanced maternity pay, Childcare Vouchers and My Family Care's Emergency Childcare cover offer further support and peace of mind. The emergency cover specifically helps at times when the work/life balance doesn't work and means employees can go to work confident that their child is receiving expert care. Staff can also nominate a child's nanny or nursery as an emergency childcare provider, giving the option of leaving children with someone familiar to them. More recently, we also offered a New Dads session as part of our Diversity month and plan to run further sessions.
These are tangible ways of supporting employees through periods of change. Less tangible, but equally valuable, is creating a culture in the workplace that promotes diversity and supports its employees in challenging times, both personal and professional.
Part of BLP's mission statement is "to be a more attractive place to work than our competitors". The emphasis placed on our employees' enjoying a positive and fulfilling career regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race and family circumstances creates a working environment that is flexible and adaptable. Employees can see that there is no "one size fits all" approach to career development and in practice; this means that when employees go through periods of change, they remain valued for the commitment, talent and contribution they make to the business.
Although employees quite rightly look for companies to support them in times of change, there is much that they can do themselves to achieve a successful work/life balance. By managing the expectations of clients and colleagues, seeking out support in a timely and proactive fashion and being fully committed to their work, they can engender the mutual trust and loyalty that, I believe, underpins all successful working relationships.
Companies can best help employees achieve a successful work/life balance through offering flexible working arrangements that allow for change, family-friendly benefits and coaching support.
Promoting a culture that embraces inclusivity and diversity will also foster mutual trust between the company and employee. The benefit to the individual in achieving a satisfying career and family life is clear and the Company's reward will be its ability to attract and retain a pool of talent that is loyal, fully engaged and committed to its success.
Julie Gottlieb, Career Development Manager, Berwin Leighton Paisner