It’s healthy for legal employers to value employees as people.

In 2018, the Vermont Commission on the Well-Being of the Legal Profession published its State Action Plan.  As I blogged here and here, I’m a big fan of the recommendations made by the Commission’s Legal Employers Committee.  Among other things, the Committee stated:

  • “Legal employers, meaning all entities that employ lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants, can play a pivotal role in promoting and maintaining lawyer well-being.”

I agree 100%.  Which is one of the reasons that I’ve incorporated wellness and referred to the Committee’s recommendations for legal employers at nearly every CLE I’ve presented so far this month.  I will continue to do so, that’s how much of a fan I am of the Committee’s work.

Today, however, I’m here to share a new tip for legal employers: the more you value your employees as people instead of as revenue producers, the better for their well-being.

Says who?

Experts who asked the employees.  That’s who.

In 2020, the California Law Association (CLA) and the District of Columbia Bar Association (DC Bar) agreed to participate in a research project to study issues related to lawyers and their behavioral health.  Last Friday, the CLA announced the project’s most recent findings.  The findings are based on “research [that] examined the relationship between what lawyers think their employers value most about them, and the mental and physical health of those lawyers.”

To me, the key findings are both unsurprising and eye-opening.

As summarized by the CLA, the study

  • “found that lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth had the best mental and physical health. Lawyers who felt most valued for their billable hours, productivity, and responsiveness were a distant second in mental and physical health. Lawyers who did not feel valued by their employers or did not receive enough feedback to know what their employers value about them fared the worst in terms of mental and physical health. In addition, lawyers who felt most valued for their professional talent/skill or overall human worth were much less likely to report they were considering leaving the profession.”

Imagine that! Valuing your employees for their “human” worth is better for their well-being than valuing them as revenue-producers or not showing them that you value them at all!

(The findings appear in a report by the researchers that was originally published in Behavioral Sciences.1)

The researchers surveyed thousands of members of the CLA and DC Bar. Based on their responses, lawyers were broken into three groups.  Those groups, and each group’s percentage of the total were:

  • Feel valued for their talent, skill, humanity:                               62%
  • Feel valued for their productivity & financial worth:                28%
  • Don’t feel valued or receive no feedback as to value:                10%

And here’s how the researchers ranked each group’s behavioral health and risk of attrition from the profession:

  • Feel valued for their talent, skill, humanity:                               Best health, lowest risk
  • Feel valued for their productivity & financial worth:                Worse health, higher risk
  • Don’t feel valued or receive no feedback as to value:                Worst health, highest risk

For more details, check out this infographic.

According to the CLA, the “key takeaways for legal employers” are:

  • “Employers who can make their lawyers feel more valued for their skill or humanity may be able to improve lawyer well-being, reduce healthcare costs, and mitigate unwanted turnover.
  • Providing clear and regular feedback may reduce stress and improve mental health.
  • By targeting and seeking to improve maladaptive behaviors in their workplace, employers may be able to improve the stress levels and mental health of their lawyers.”

In other words, when employers make people feel valued as people, the people are healthier and less likely to leave. And while I’m no expert, my guess is that healthier employees who aren’t looking to leave make for better business.

Here’s to making people feel like people.

For additional tips on how to create a healthy work environment, check out the ABA Well-Being Toolkit for Lawyers and Legal Employers or, my favorite, the ABA Well-Being Toolkit in a Nutshell.

Wellness

1 Last year, and as part 1 of the same project that’s the subject of today’s post, the researchers released Stress, Drink, Leave: an examination of gender-specific risk factors that their findings on the factors that drive lawyers from the practice. As Bloomberg Law noted upon its release, the first report concluded that women were at a higher risk of leaving the profession for behavioral health reasons than men.

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