In running a law firm there is often little thought given to physical and mental health of employees. Stress and its close companions high blood pressure, obesity, and substance abuse are major risk factors in the development of chronic health conditions. The adversarial nature of the practice of law itself lends itself to stress. To keep the office healthy, law office managers should regularly consider the effects of the office environment on their employees’ health.
Take the following steps toward a healthier, happier, and more productive law office:
- Appearances count. Given how influenced we are by our physical environments, the office should be physically pleasing to those who spend a third of their lives there. Consider the following ideas: Invest in an attractive seating area for clients to look out the window and talk quietly, preferably away from the receptionist’s desk (ringing phones make everyone nervous); consult with employees about their ideal office arrangement, i.e., where do they want their desk, filing cabinets, and even their waste baskets; appoint a cordial, well-informed employee as the “guide” for new employees to ask questions about protocols and systems.
- Get Organized. Taking the time to organize one’s office results in increased productivity, improves professional image, saves space, and pays for itself through improved efficiency. It also contributes to job satisfaction.
- The Noise Level. Sit in your office, eyes closed, and listen. What do you hear? Telephones ringing? Loud talking and laughter? Cell phones playing rock or rap? Nix the loud ringers, endless conversations, and loud laughter during working hours. Provide a place, such as the kitchen or the break room, where employees can talk socially and explain that, beyond that room, the noise level should be kept to a minimum.
- Emotional Health. If morale is very poor and you do not feel equipped to resolve the internal conflicts, consider bringing in a trained, skilled workplace mediator. A good mediator can get important conversations started between people who have not so much as looked at each other without contempt for the six months. Absent exigent circumstances, take affirmative steps intended to foster collegiality. Balance rules with flexibility. Flexibility means accepting the fact that the first fifteen minutes of the working day will never be the most productive and on any given day it is likely that several employees are experiencing significant personal stress and may not be at their peak performance. If the rules aren’t excessively rigid and a manager’s flexibility is not seen as weakness, you have a good chance of maximizing employee satisfaction.
- Employee Recognition. The cost of employee recognition is minimal and the results will surprise you. Staff appreciation can range from some type of recognition program tied to a small financial incentive to a box in the office where employees can compliment their co-workers on an anonymous basis. Once employees realize that their contributions are being noticed, they will perform at higher levels and with increased enthusiasm.
- Social Health. Flexible schedules for employees with responsibility for young children and/or aging parents, one day a week of telecommuting, or a couple of paid personal days off a year can contribute significantly to job satisfaction and job performance. Taking a birthday celebration beyond the “community” birthday card and providing employees with a paid birthday holiday speaks to the importance of an employee’s well being. It’s also good business to make an effort to “know” your employees. But some office-sponsored events should take place “sans-boss,” because people are more likely to relax when they don’t believe they are being observed by their supervisors, and a boss-attended event can become just one more item on the job description list.
- Prevention. Most offices provide the essential health aids such as Band-Aids and Tylenol. Consider going a step further and providing, for example, antibacterial hand soap, hand sanitizer, and tissues at every desk. Consider adopting a policy that supports employees staying home when they are sick. Limiting one-on-one exposure, hand-to-hand contact, and the transmission of airborne bacteria within the office will have a significant impact on employee health, resulting in reduced absenteeism, increased productivity, job satisfaction, and, ultimately, office morale.
A sick office can squeeze the life out of employees, negatively impact the business itself, and drive away clients. A good employee who feels dissatisfied on account of poor morale will eventually look elsewhere for employment. Alternatively, employees develop a sense of loyalty to their job and the organization as a whole when they feel their contributions are valued and appreciated.
For additional help on issues relating to substance abuse and stress, check out CEB’s programs on these subjects, all available On Demand.
These steps were originally from a CEB article by Marilyn Mason. Marilyn Mason is a legal nurse consultant and the office manager at Winer & McKenna, LLP in Oakland.
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