Prioritize Employee Health for Your Firm’s Financial Wellness
Robust wellness initiatives are investments that yield dynamic returns.
The expansive, devastating impact of COVID-19 has caused organizations across the globe to rethink their approach to protecting and promoting the health and wellness of their employees.
Although many law firms have wellness programs and initiatives in place, the pandemic has demonstrated that, in order to truly support their workforce, firms must take a systematic and robust approach to wellness — one that is focused on prevention and goes beyond the reach of traditional programs and initiatives.
THE COST OF NOT INVESTING IN PREVENTION
For many organizations, the strength of their health and wellness initiatives is directly tied to the perceived bottom-line return on wellness-related investments. And while it may be tempting to view health and wellness as a mere HR cost, new research is showing that now, more than ever, robust wellness initiatives are investments that yield dynamic returns.
A recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that poor health is responsible for a 15% reduction in global GDP each year. Tying this reduction to a lack of long-term, preventive wellness initiatives inside of companies, the report notes that modern-day work environments are fraught with occupational risks related to poor sleep hygiene, mental health stressors and increasingly high levels of sedentariness. The report also points to research showing that chronic conditions — like low back pain, migraines and mental health issues, among others — can reduce productivity by upwards of 5%.
“While it may be tempting to view health and wellness as a mere HR cost, new research is showing that now, more than ever, robust wellness initiatives are investments that yield dynamic returns.”
This research is in line with scores of other studies that have concluded that employee well-being and workplace wellness have a significant impact on a company’s bottom line — influencing everything from turnover to absenteeism to the quality of customer support.
In light of these causal connections between wellness and return on investment, the McKinsey report concluded that a focus on prevention is the key to systemic improvements in employee health. The report found that 70% of the economic benefits could be realized through investment in things like cleaner and safer work environments, promoting the adoption of healthier behaviors, and increased access to preventive therapies and medicines.
In a nutshell: Investment in employee health and wellness has the potential to lead to significant economic returns in the form of increased output and productivity.
A SYSTEMIC SHIFT TO PREVENTION AND PROMOTION
Despite the data, many companies struggle to realize the benefits of investing in health and wellness. For some, they struggle to justify the expense because they have a hard time tracing it to a cognizable ROI. For others, they believe in the power of wellness but the programs and initiatives they have in place do not lead to the type of systemic change they want for their organizations.
When it comes to making successful investments that result in improved health and wellness, the through line appears to be a focus on a long-term, cohesive strategy whose aim is a holistic approach to making employees’ lives better.
Stated differently, instead of treating employee wellness programs as a simple HR benefit, legal organizations who seek to make meaningful change must make wellness a strategic, corporate objective that permeates the company’s culture — even if that causes disruption to other cultural norms.
“The empirical evidence suggests that while practices and policies such as these may initially appear to have a disproportionate impact on a firm’s bottom line, in the aggregate they have the potential to lead to a significant return on investment.”
“If we truly want to improve the mental and emotional health of lawyers and staff within firms, then firms must be willing to take tangible actions to alter the law firm systems and structures,” says Jarrett Green, a well-being, stress resiliency and peak performance consultant to the legal industry. “While it’s a wonderful start to provide well-being seminars and CLEs to help navigate the stressors of the environment, it’s simply not enough. Real change will only occur when firms have the courage to modify their institutional structures and adopt new policies that may be somewhat unpopular at the partnership level.”
In addition to programmatic offerings, firms should focus on implementing structural and policy-level changes. According to Jarrett, example changes could include:
Providing 25 to 50 billable hour credits per year for firm-sponsored well-being programs
Instituting a systematized “wellness check-in policy” in which supervisors conduct a brief well-being check-in with individuals on their team
Incorporating emotional intelligence and commitment to well-being as evaluative factors in annual performance reviews
Creating an anonymous “Well-being Feedback E-Box” in which attorneys and staff can transparently express their needs and concerns to firm management without fear of retaliation (and receive a monthly firmwide response to the key issues raised in the E-Box)
These kinds of changes are of paramount importance at present, as law firms search for ways to support their employees during the pandemic. Firms have a unique opportunity to support their workforce through implementing clear and robust remote work policies, investing in remote resources that build community and culture, and offering stipends that will help employees create a comfortable home-work environment — like standing desks and other wellness-related resources.
Faced with the isolation of working from home, investing in employee resources related to mental health, leadership training, meditation and other mindfulness resources also have the potential to create a major shift.
“An obvious thing firms can do is provide mandatory empathy-based leadership training to all partners, so they can be specifically trained on how to give assignments, deliver constructive feedback, and generally communicate with their teams in ways that carry empathy, sensitivity and emotional intelligence around the unique challenges and stressors folks are facing right now,” says Jarrett.
The empirical evidence suggests that while practices and policies such as these may initially appear to have a disproportionate impact on a firm’s bottom line, in the aggregate they have the potential to lead to a significant return on investment.
Consider employee turnover, for example. According to Gallup, U.S. employers spend $1 trillion annually on costs related to turnover, with lost employee costs ranging anywhere from 33% to 150% of an employee’s annual salary.
“Setting aside return on investment, discussions around policy change and supporting employee health and wellness raise the question: What kind of firm do you want to be?”
A number of studies have demonstrated a direct link between employee well-being and a reduction in turnover. A 2017 National Survey of Employer-Sponsored Health Plans conducted by Mercer found that employers who created a strong culture of health experienced an average turnover rate of 11 percentage points lower than those who did not.
Similarly, a boost in employee engagement can be directly linked to an increase in well-being policies and initiatives. Research conducted by Limeade and Quantum Workplace suggests that employees who reported high levels of well-being are almost twice as likely to be engaged in and enjoy their work. Gallup also has reported that workplace teams who fall within the top 20% in overall engagement experience a 41% reduction in absenteeism, and 59% less turnover.
WHAT KIND OF FIRM DO YOU WANT TO BE?
Setting aside return on investment, discussions around policy change and supporting employee health and wellness raise the question: What kind of firm do you want to be?
As the COVID-19 pandemic wears on, we are at a crossroads regarding how business is conducted, how companies support their employees, and how organizations want to adapt to meet the needs of a changing economy and workforce.
One way firms can understand how best to support their employees is to give them an opportunity to be heard — and to respond accordingly.
“Firms can conduct a formal survey asking how the firm can be more supportive during this difficult time or what actions the firm can take to make them feel more cared for,” says Jarrett. When firms demonstrate that they are willing to listen and incrementally invest in those suggestions, it goes a long way toward building trust and rapport. “When employees are given a space to express their needs, well-being accelerates, and when a few suggestions are incorporated, well-being will accelerate even more,” says Jarrett.
The legal industry as a whole — which has been traditionally slow to adopt change — has a unique opportunity to meet the moment by going above and beyond the minimal CLE requirements and HR benefits. Leadership at the HR, professional development and executive levels can work in unison to map out a broader vision for change that recognizes the need for a cohesive business strategy around health and wellness.
Investing in a systematic and culture-focused approach to health and wellness has the potential to inspire pride and a sense of shared responsibility around the well-being of individuals, teams and the firm as a whole.
Krista Hart, Firm Administrator at Panitch Schwarze Belisario & Nadel, recently chatted with Legal Management Talk about how and why she established a wellness program for staff and attorneys. Listen to the episode here and read her recent article about the program.
About the Author
Drew Amoroso is an Attorney, Public Speaker and Founder of DueCourse, a mobile application that helps professionals strengthen their workday mindset and show up at their best at work.