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ANALYSIS: Let Decency Guide the Legal Field’s Return to Office

Nov. 1, 2021, 8:51 AM

Law firms and legal departments tend to treat lawyers well from a monetary perspective, but they sometimes let well-being and self-care take a back seat to productivity and profit. As more organizations return to office (RTO) in 2022, law firms and legal departments should consider using the “decency quotient"—as opposed to just a profit-based model—to help guide their RTO policies and procedures, DEI frameworks, and well-being improvement activities.

Though the decency quotient as a management model predates the pandemic, its tenet—that leadership’s mission should be driven by empathy, with a focus on caring for employees and creating a positive workplace where they can feel respected and valued—is as important as ever in the upcoming year as organizations return to the office and face new as well as old challenges. As organizations look for strategies to guide their operations in 2022, this management model could be used to create a more positive work experience that benefits each and every employee.

The Decency Quotient’s Rising Relevance in Law

As the world strives to return to some semblance of normalcy from the pandemic, and people shuffle back into the office (or continue to stay home, for that matter), organizations should operate with decency to optimize their employees’ new work life. To do this, they should pay extra attention to their employees’ needs and strive to make changes in operations, workflows, and practices that improve employee experience.

Recently, Harvard Business Review described how Mastercard’s leadership used the decency quotient to improve the lives of employees by providing better benefits, such as improved leave packages and retirement investment options, all while transforming aspects of their business and trying to boost competitiveness.

Law firms and legal departments can take a page out of this playbook and employ the decency quotient—or, more simply and directly, employ decency—to address some of the new and ongoing challenges they will face in 2022, such as preventing RTO pains; creating successful and meaningful diversity, equity, and inclusion programs; and facilitating greater employee retention.

Using Decency to Guide Return-to-Office

As the pandemic (hopefully) subsides in 2022, many offices may return to hybrid or full-time in-office work, if they have not done so already. Law firms and legal departments can make this transition easier by leading with decency.

Employees are now used to working from home and having more flexibility. It allows for easier child and family care, reduced time spent commuting, more freedom to work when and where it is most convenient, and other tangible benefits to employees. All of this risks coming to an end under a RTO mandate (or a more complete RTO for organizations that are currently hybrid).

And this return to the office is already on the way. Bureau of Labor Statistics data trends show that two-thirds (66%) of legal field employees were working in the office as of September, up from 60% in August.

While organizations may hale all of their employees back into the office at some point, they can do so in a way that shows that they care and launch new policies that retain some of the benefits that employees had in a remote environment. While these policies will look different for each organization, the overall plan should be the same: Consider the ways employees benefited from the work-from-home setup and try to provide them with these benefits to the extent possible.

For example, from a Covid perspective, they could promote safety and security by providing virus testing and contact tracing for employees in the office and ensure that employees have a clear policy to follow if they are not feeling well, such as letting them work from home or providing more sick time. This can help to quell some of the virus-related concerns as employees return to the office.

Additionally, organizations can provide more flexibility, such as allowing their employees—within reason—to work from home whenever they need to or granting them more time off (or flex time) to tend to personal, family, or medical needs.

Decency: A Root of DEI Program Success

DEI will likely continue to be a relevant topic in the legal industry (and others) in 2022. Operating an organization with decency as a guide can help organizations promote DEI initiatives and successfully achieve diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

Decency can form a cornerstone for DEI initiatives, since considering the best interests of all employees is central to DEI. The following are examples of how decency fits into each of the major components of DEI initiatives:

  • From a diversity perspective, decency helps to ensure that people in different groups feel at home within an organization and that they are represented across the organization.
  • From an equity perspective, decency helps to ensure that all employees are treated equally—not just in workflow processes and procedures, but also in financial, business, and advancement opportunities.
  • From an inclusion perspective, decency helps to create a flexible workplace, promote cohesion, and instill a culture that welcomes all employees, makes them a part of the team, and provides them the potential to work at any level or area of the organization.

Decency Can Elevate Well-Being Issues

Lawyers often experience well-being issues, many of which stem from work pressures. Organizations may not be able to alleviate all well-being challenges that lawyers face, but if they lead with decency, they can help to prevent some of the common work-related roadblocks to well-being.

Bloomberg Law’s Q3 2021 Workload and Hours Survey asked respondents to select what work-related issues they faced, and the top responses were disrupted sleep (70%) and anxiety (60%).

Organizations can help to address these well-being-related issues by leading with decency. Organization should consider the following:

  • Provide additional well-being services and resources as well as time to utilize them.
  • Implement policies to help lawyers unplug from work.
  • Adequately staff projects to help reduce stress and pressure on lawyers.
  • Implement well-being-related policies and practices that allow for better work-life balance.
  • Offer hybrid or work-from-home models for those that need or request them.
  • Provide ergonomic office furniture and items to improve physical well-being.

Employers should also ask for lawyers’ input on actions that they can take to improve well-being. Soliciting this input communicates that an organization cares about its lawyers, and following through and implementing changes based on this input could improve well-being and overall morale.

Access additional analyses from our Bloomberg Law 2022 series here, including pieces covering trends in Litigation, Regulatory & Compliance, Transactions & Contracts, and the Future of the Legal Industry.

Bloomberg Law has free resources available in our In Focus: Lawyer Well-Being page, including links to assistance programs.

Bloomberg Law subscribers can find related content on our In Focus: Legal Operations and Return to Office Toolkit resources.

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