“The Great Resignation” “The Employee Exodus of 2021”, whatever you call it, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic is driving significant changes in the US workforce and more employees than ever before are leaving their jobs, many without having secured a new position. In October of 2021, the turnover rate in law firms rose over 20% in all segments, a rate that has never been seen before.
Coming on the heels of a 50% decrease in hiring of new associates seen in 2019 and 2020, law firms are now scrambling to hire and retain staff. Legal aid firms are not immune and many seem to be having it worse. In Minnesota, a recent report to the legislature stated that 32% of staff have turned over in the past year. Since staff turnover is costly, around 33% of the lost employee’s annual salary, keeping the staff firms already have is a great place to start.
Many of the reasons for this wave of departures are not unique to the practice of law. Discomfort with returning to the office full time, greater demand for work life balance, and a quest for more meaning in life are all reasons cited to explain employee actions. Before the pandemic, many legal aid staff cited their mission driven focus and a commitment to civil justice as the things that kept them engaged in a lower paying, highly demanding job. That appears to be changing with many civil legal services staff seeking employers who offer more flexibility, hybrid or remote work options, and more equity in pay and workloads.
Sateesh Nori, in the article “The Great Resignation: the Nonprofit Edition” stated
“When nonprofits don't deliver on these values, morale suffers. Workers, trained to spot injustice, immediately turn sour on their own workplaces. The pandemic forced a reckoning around these issues. It also forced many public interest lawyers to reassess their needs and their goals.”
Certainly higher wages and more lawyers would help. However, decreasing revenues from traditional sources, like IOLTA and filing fees as well as private funders, make it unlikely that the changes will come quickly enough or in great enough proportion to stem the tide. Legal aid firms will need to seek alternative, cost effective ways to attract and retain staff. Focusing internally on improving job satisfaction for current employees is an effective and easy place to start. Redundant or ineffective processes can cause frustration, stagnation and decreased employee engagement. Using proven Business Process Improvement (BPI) techniques and tools to identify and improve these processes can go a long way to helping staff feel that they are using their time and talents to complete fulfilling and meaningful work, which in turn improves engagement. Engaged employees are much less likely to leave their employer (check out these important statistics about employee engagement).
While almost any firm process can be improved, there are three common areas that are ripe for improvement in most firms:
Business Process Improvement gives teams a structured and easy-to-follow method for examining the tasks and people involved in whatever process the firm wants to make better. Yes, it takes time and effort, but retooling processes to improve your employees’ experience and engagement outweighs the investment and allows employees to focus on meaningful and valuable activities that best use their time and talents. Intentionally creating a thoughtful process also leads to clarity of responsibilities for staff and puts essential tasks in the hands of the person best equipped to handle them. Often, teams conducting a BPI analysis identify related improvements or enhancements which can drive better outcomes for clients and/or more satisfaction for staff. More satisfaction leads to better engagement which leads to better retention.
BPI analysis includes team members and key stakeholders in the activities that drive process change. In the projects I have been a part of, participants often report that just having a voice in the changes being made, having their input and expertise considered, yields higher engagement and satisfaction. Just as often, participants view the investment of time and resources in making their jobs better as an indicator that firm management listens to and cares about employees.
One final point about using BPI to improve employee engagement. Employees rank opportunities for learning and development as a key driver of engagement. Udemy, a provider of online education, found in a survey it conducted that 80% of employees said that having opportunities for learning and development would increase their engagement at work.
By smoothing workflows, reducing redundancies or repetitive work, and putting tasks in the hands of the people best equipped to complete them, firms often create opportunities for staff to take on more challenging work and more rewarding responsibilities. This applies to onboarding as well. According to SHRM, the Society for Human Resources Management, firms who have a standardized onboarding process experience 50% greater new hire productivity.
New hires who are working and contributing are more likely to be engaged with their employer. More engagement, more retention. Intrigued or interested in getting started? Check out legalaidprocess.org for information and resources on process improvement or contact us.