Jessica Mazzeo Advocates for Law Firm Employee Wellness Programs in The Legal Intelligencer
By Jessica Mazzeo
Employee satisfaction and engagement are topics that have been, and will continue to be, reoccurring in today’s workforce and well into the future. While there may be some out there who feel that continuing to talk about this topic may be redundant and unimportant, please note: you’re wrong. While millennials should be credited (and yes it’s a credit, not a criticism) for bringing these topics to the forefront, it’s important to note that these initiatives should be seen as a benefit to employers not a drawback. We all know, regardless of firm size, that employee turnover is costly. You spend time and money training new employees and integrating them into your firm, only to start that process all over again when they leave due to dissatisfaction or disengagement. Not only does turnover hurt your bottom line but it also affects morale, which in turn can negatively impact your firm culture. This toxicity can spread like wildfire and you run the risk of losing even your most loyal of employees. In addition to supporting all employees in professional and educational development (a topic which I have previously covered), employers should consider implementing a wellness program into your firm to combat the slippery slope of employee disengagement and exodus. While these types of initiatives are commonplace at large corporations, in today’s market, all employers should be supporting employee well-being.
First, however, before you begin to create a wellness program, you should really understand what employee engagement is. Natalie Loeb, founder and lead consultant of Loeb Leadership Development Group, recently defined employee engagement as “an intentional decision made by the leaders of a firm to foster the right culture establishing a workplace where all employees can give their best each day, remain committed to their firm’s goals and values, and stay inspired to contribute to firm success, while building and sustaining an enhanced sense of self-confidence and well-being.” Loeb, who has over 20 years of experience in employee relations including previously working in human resources at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom went on to say that engagement is “based on trust, integrity, two-way feedback and collaborative teamwork among the firm’s team members. Heightened employee engagement increases the chances of business success, contributing to firm and individual performance, productivity and well-being. Engagement can be measured. It varies from low to high. It can be built, cultivated and dramatically increased.” Instituting haphazard programs just for the sake of checking a box is not only ineffective but is wasteful of your time and employee’s time. Therefore, it’s important from the beginning that management and other decision makers at the firm devote time and energy to creating useful programs that have a direct impact on employee engagement.
Steve Aldana, CEO of Wellsteps and author of over 75 scientific papers and seven books on health risk management, healthy living, and health promotion programs, provides an in-depth breakdown of why employee wellness should be important to your firm. His article, “The 7 Best Reasons to Have a Wellness Program” details the value of employee wellness programs, backed by findings from a multitude of research. As Aldana explains, wellness programs “decrease absenteeism; build and help sustain high employee morale and can reduce health care costs,” among many other benefits.
While it may seem like implementing effective wellness programs would be costly, that is not always the case. Supporting a department or firmwide fitness challenge comes at little to no cost to the firm. The firm could provide a gift card or other nominal gift to the top male and female who have achieved certain goals. You can also present a lunch and learn on the value of self-care and fitness, with tips that can be applied on the job. Before you go and find an outside speaker, poll your employees to see if anyone is knowledgeable or passionate about the topic and would be willing to share their insights and tips with firm employees. There are also now a cadre of providers who teach in-office yoga and meditation techniques at nominal cost to support physical and mental well-being while working.
Another cost-sensitive avenue that a firm could explore is a voluntary, extracurricular event outside the firm such as a 5K walk or run supporting a charity or legal association. Earlier this year, our firm participated in the Philadelphia Eagles Autism Challenge. Everyone in our firm who participated had the opportunity to bond with fellow team members and engage in physical activity while supporting a worthy cause—even though it was on a rainy and cold Saturday morning. However, it’s important to note that should you decide to organize an activity like this or something similar, make sure participants know that it’s a strictly voluntary event. While the firm should encourage participation at these events, it’s important that you don’t end up with an FLSA violation or workers’ compensation issue should someone get hurt. Regina Robson, member of Robson & Robson and associate professor at St. Joseph’s University, wrote “Good Deeds Punished? The Legal Risks of Employee Community Service,” which outlines useful information that can help firms mitigate any potential violations.
You may also already have access to wellness programs through your existing insurance benefits. Many medical or disability carriers now offer programs that support wellness at no cost to you or your employees (also commonly known as employee assisted programs). These programs provide valuable resources and support for, among other things, addiction and mental health crises. As it appears that law firms still carry a stigma around these issues, as evidenced in Patrick Krill’s September 2018 article, “ALM Survey on Mental Health and Substance Abuse: Big Law’s Pervasive Problem,” that is yet another justification for the necessity of providing employees with support and education on these common challenges.
But wellness is not only defined by what programs you integrate into your firm, it’s also about the people in the room. Diversity and inclusion initiatives are not just buzz words but are proven to be beneficial to employee well-being as well. Having a diverse workforce provides opportunities to learn from each other and ensures that new perspectives and skills are brought to the table. Employees also show more commitment to their firms when the workforce reflects who they are, meaning a representative group who differ in gender, race, disability or sexual orientation (among a variety of other categories). Bringing in and encouraging staff from a wide array of backgrounds fosters a sense of tolerance and openness in the culture, not to mention the added financial benefit of making firms more attractive to clients who place a high value on D&I. More on the steps to making law firms more inclusive can be found in my previous article.
This summer, my firm’s marketing manager interviewed Mona C. Zeiberg, chief marketing officer, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, to find out why and how her firm supports employee wellness. Zeiberg started by saying that “People need to keep up with a hectic life and work life balance” and therefore there is an “importance of taking care of yourself and … focusing on your wellness generally. Morgan Lewis has always had a robust culture where if someone needs something the whole firm bands together to help them at all levels. This is the kind of place where you feel like you are never alone.” But like so many other workplace initiatives and policies, it carries more weight, and sometimes is only enforced, when there is buy-in from the top. “Having [firm chair] Jami [Wintz McKeon] reiterate that message time and time again has been really important,” Zeiberg stated. The so-called ‘trickle-down effect’ does in fact work as Zeiberg went on to say “it is better to hear it directly from the leader.”
Whether you choose to provide discounted gym memberships or a lunch-and-learn on balancing work and personal well-being, the important thing is that you are supporting overall wellness of your employees. This will help reduce turnover, increase employee engagement and boost morale. But like any good idea, it’s only as good as the effort you put into it. Make sure top management understands the benefits, put thought and planning into the execution, and be open to expanding (or revamping) programs that have proven to not be successful. The most important thing, however, is that you have these programs now because I can guarantee your competitor already does.
Jessica L. Mazzeo is chief operating officer of Griesing Law, where she focuses on overseeing and implementing all of the firm’s business operations while establishing policies that promote and retain the firm’s culture and strategic vision. In addition to her role at the firm, Mazzeo is on the diversity and inclusion committee of the Association of Legal Administrators. She is also a volunteer for the National Association of Minority and Women Owned Law Firms and the Women’s Business Enterprise Council of PA-DE-sNJ. Contact her at 215-732-3922 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from the September 20, 2018 edition of The Legal Intelligencer. © 2018 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.