Although the legal job market is emerging as a bright spot for hiring in a still-struggling economy, employee retention has not become a priority yet for many legal departments. But as conditions shift, valued staff are likely to have their attention piqued by other offers. Stepped-up retention efforts will be essential to curbing turnover as opportunities expand for legal professionals.
With signs pointing to increased competition for talent, how can legal departments retain top performers? Following are some helpful – and mostly low-cost – ideas:
‘Re-recruiting’. The recession has taken its toll on workers, many of whom have taken on extra responsibilities and put in longer hours in recent months. Nearly half of workers (45 percent) polled in a Robert Half International survey said they plan to change employers, careers or industries once the economy recovers. A legal department may have key staff members whose commitment has waned during the downturn, making it necessary to “re-sell” them on their career potential at their current company. Counsel can talk with top performers about what might enhance their job satisfaction and remind them of the unique benefits and advantages the organization offers, whether it’s a great corporate culture, solid financial standing or a strong reputation.
Investing in professional development. Employees want to work for companies that invest in their careers through courses, seminars and conferences or professional memberships. Not only does staff benefit from these activities but so does the department, as legal professionals expand their skills and become more valuable team members. Moreover, employees apparently expect better support of their professional development as their companies’ prospects improve. A Robert Half survey found that 61 percent of workers said tuition reimbursement or subsidized training was one of the top perks they expect to be offered when the economy improves.
Providing career advancement opportunities. Top performers are always interested in getting ahead in their companies. With this in mind, managing counsel should see if they may be able to restructure certain roles so employees can grow their careers without leaving the company. Sometimes this can be as easy as involving promising staff members in important new projects or higher-level meetings and, if possible, offering promotions to individuals who have demonstrated they can succeed at the next level.
Recognizing excellence. Even the most self-sufficient professionals want to feel appreciated. Counsel should not forget the simple act of saying “thank you” and “great job” when employees make a special effort or exceed expectations. It’s not necessary to spend a lot of time or money to show the department’s appreciation; a basic effort to personalize the recognition will do. Acknowledging staff members’ contributions in a public way also is key to strengthening their loyalty and enhancing their job satisfaction.
Providing temporary support. Employees who have lost coworkers to layoffs are, in many cases, now doubling down. If hiring is not an option, counsel may want to consider bringing in interim legal professionals to help alleviate workloads and ease stress on overworked staff members.
Encouraging more team-building activities. Many companies have cut back on perks, but an occasional group activity, such as a trip to a sporting event or an offsite lunch, can boost morale and make employees feel more appreciated.
Sweetening compensation. If the department is able to improve compensation as conditions brighten, this will offer a competitive advantage in both recruitment and retention. And many employees expect to be rewarded for their loyalty and hard work after a difficult period. Although money isn’t everything, if salaries and benefits are not at least on par with competitors, employees may believe the organization doesn’t truly value their contributions. Counsel should benchmark salary levels with industry colleagues and associations, recruiting firm contacts and resources such as the Robert Half Legal Salary Guide. While not all companies can offer higher salaries, there may be more latitude with bonuses or incentive compensation.
Offering flexibility. Giving staff members the option to follow a flexible schedule or telecommute one day a week can allow them to customize their schedules to their lifestyles.
Efforts toward retaining top performers are critical at any time but especially in a legal job market that seems to be becoming more competitive. Counsel who work to improve job satisfaction in some of these ways can make employees’ jobs more rewarding and enhance retention, even if significant increases in compensation are not currently possible.
Charles A. Volkert is executive director of Robert Half Legal, a leading staffing service specializing in the placement of attorneys, paralegals, legal administrators and other legal professionals with law firms and corporate legal departments. Based in Menlo Park, Calif., Robert Half Legal has offices in major cities throughout the United States and Canada.