Diary of a busy practitioner, juggling work and family somewhere in England

There is a much-repeated quote from Richard Branson along the lines that if you look after your staff first, your staff will look after your customers. 


Lately, I keep coming across examples of really good staff who are really p***ed off by rubbish staff and the point I want to make today - to employers - is that you don’t need to keep all staff happy. Just the good ones. And in an employment market like we are seeing - at least what I am seeing locally - if you don’t keep the good ones happy, they are likely to have two or three offers on the table at any one time, and they will be off.

It isn’t even a recent thing. My friend, let us call her Dulcie, was a conveyancing secretary at the firm I trained at. She was one of two full time secretaries working for (let’s call him) Darcy, our most profitable fee earner in the pre-2008 property boom. He was very experienced, and hard-working, and very, very busy. The other secretary - let’s call her Doris - was terrible. Some days it was impossible to tell if she had actually woken up or if she had sleepwalked into work, slept all day and then went home to continue sleeping. She actually told me on one occasion that she 'wasn’t paid to think'. She had no learning curve when she made mistakes, no pride, no shame and no work ethic. Despite this she was actually quite likeable but that’s an aside.

If Darcy needed someone to urgently chase up a mortgage advance, or prepare a completion statement quickly, or rattle through an urgent tape (please explain to the youngsters what I mean by this) it was Dulcie that he asked to do it. Doris was a liability and he didn’t have time for that. She was allowed to plod on through the non-urgent, simple stuff while Dulcie shouldered the responsibility of the harder, urgent stuff. It might not surprise you to know that they were getting paid the same too, and they both knew it. Treating them the same is NOT looking after your staff properly.

I’ve seen this situation time and again but even more common is the situation where you have a difficult/negative/toxic member of staff upsetting good staff and the employers not wishing to face the person head on. Usually, the person has been at the firm a long time and perhaps the negativity comes on so gradually that the employers don’t notice it happening and then feel that it is too late to get a handle on it.

Another example - perhaps the worst if you are trying to make a profit - is fee earners not meeting their targets but being rewarded with firm-wide bonuses and pay rises and p***ing off the fee earners who did meet their targets.

I’m not suggesting people aren’t allowed bad days, or even bad years when it comes to fees. But I wouldn’t expect a bonus or a pay rise if I didn’t meet my target - that would be fine with me, even if the reason I didn’t meet my target was outside of my control.

I know lots of employers who wish to be kind, and give people chances and the benefit of the doubt. But as with most things in life, all you need is a bit of clear communication. It is not unkind to say you are in business to make a profit. It is not unkind to call people out on toxic comments. It is not unkind to pay the harder working secretary more. If this buoyant employment market continues, employers are going to need to learn this lesson pretty quickly.


*All names have been changed