Over the past few months I have been approached by some of our younger lawyers asking to adapt their working hours to fit their childcare needs. Coincidently, all three were men under the age of 40. It’s pretty much a given that younger employees have a much higher expectation of being allowed to work in ways to suit them than our older, more senior lawyers, myself included, who have grown up within the confines of an office.
I’m a big supporter of flexible working to help people manage, and enjoy, their professional and personal lives, but, also a given, I need to balance that with what’s right for the business.
As a medium-sized law firm with tight margins, we’re not in the same position as the big law firms who can offer sabbaticals, high-end catering and free sports facilities
With that in mind, we have to work harder at finding alternative ways to support our employees to stay healthy and happy, be present in their personal lives while dealing with a competitive market and providing the level of support to clients our cases demand.
Dealing with vulnerable people who have been mistreated or families suffering catastrophic injury can be harrowing. Even when a case goes well, many of the problems persist, as does the stress.
Our lawyers are very ambitious, they offer huge commitment to clients and the firm and that is fantastic. My job is to listen and be alert to the impact of that commitment and encourage them to take a break when necessary. The work will always be there to come back to but being at the top of your game and fully productive generates the professional satisfaction that helps us love our jobs and continue to support our clients. Without that, we’re much less use to ourselves or the firm.
The young fathers asking to work flexibly will likely commit to reducing their hours in the office and taking their work home. From my side that means ensuring the structures are in place to manage that and encouraging the whole firm to buy into the ethos of agile working and to rethink presenteeism.
What I expect in return is acceptance that the firm can only function if people work within certain time constraints and structures. But I also ask them to acknowledge the potential danger of flexible working, of always ‘being on’, i.e., continuously available online or by phone off, always on social media and never switching off.
I try to give myself two hours in the evenings when I put my phones and laptop face down in a different room. Two hours to regenerate, to take a breath and take an active part in my personal life.
My job is to communicate to staff that only by adopting a holistic approach to work, health, happiness and our personal lives can we perform at the level we aspire to and which will support and move forward the business into the future.
Vidisha Joshi, Managing partner, Hodge Jones & Allen