Retaining employees: One size does not fit all

Retaining employees: One size does not fit all


Offering greater flexibility and a clear pathway for progression are just some of the steps firms must take to hang onto a new generation of talented people, advises Jo Kangurs

I’m sure you have all heard the phrase ‘war for talent’. It has been talked about for a number of years now and while many firms have acknowledged this and adapted their recruitment, retention, and talent development strategies accordingly, the risk of losing your best people is still as prevalent as ever.

Whenever an employee leaves a business there is a financial cost involved. A report carried out by Oxford Economics in 2014 identified that the cost of replacing an employee is in excess of £30,000, £25,000 of which comes from the loss of productivity caused by the time it takes for a new recruit to get up to speed.

For knowledge-based businesses, such as law firms, there are even greater costs: the loss of key clients, business acumen, and potentially reputation. Research carried out by Thomson Reuters in 2015 found that over one-third of finance directors in the UK’s top 100 law firms considered the poaching of top talent as high risk to their firm’s profitability.

How do you ensure you are winning the war on talent? Money alone won’t do the trick. While financial incentives and perks are important, on their own they won’t be sufficient to retain the best people. Here are some suggestions on what firms should be focusing on.Communication and culture

The importance of engaging and consulting with employees should never be underestimated. When employees feel that they have been listened to about the creation and roll-out of the firm’s objectives, they are much more likely to feel that they are making a contribution and go that extra mile. Keeping the core values and objective alive by asking for ideas, effective communication of change, and involving them in decision making are all crucial ingredients to having an engaged, productive, and loyal workforce.

A big part of communication is recognition – taking the time to acknowledge success and say thank you for a job well done goes such a long way to making people feel valued and motivated at work. Create a culture when it is safe to recognise and reward employees, ensuring any formal recognition initiatives are fairly applied and managed.

Leadership and management

Historically, many lawyers have found themselves in management roles due to their legal acumen and have not been equipped with, or necessarily interested in having, the skills essential to managing those working in their teams. Ensuring managers understand the value they can add and are properly trained to motivate, nurture talent, and tackle issues in the right way is key to effective leadership and people management.

Career development

Long gone are the days when employees spent their whole career in one place. People tend to consider changing jobs between three and five years after starting, therefore having a clear pathway for progression and development is just as, if not more, important than paying competitive salaries when it comes to retaining high-performing individuals.

These employees need to know how, with the right support and guidance, they can achieve their goals and career aspiration. Having a structured framework for progression will help ensure individuals have the required skills, expertise, and behaviours to meet both their goals and those of the firm.

Greater flexibility

Offering greater flexibility is increasingly becoming a strategic tool when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. More people, and in particular the next generation, are looking for roles which offer a fulfilling career but not at the expense of their personal life. Those firms that are receptive to, and embrace, flexible working have a much greater chance of keeping their best talent.

Remember that one size doesn’t fit all. Demands and expectations are changing. The younger generation are looking for something different from both their employers and careers and often have a different set of priorities to previous generations. They don’t necessarily want to become a partner and instead focus on being a valued and recognised legal expert. The key is understanding these differences and creating a culture and environment which motivates everyone in the firm.

Finally, don’t miss those hidden gems. It’s easy just to focus on the lawyers who are bringing in the most fees, ‘the rainmakers’, and do everything to retain those individuals, but in doing so you run the risk of missing the less obvious employees – those whose skills, technical expertise, or networks might be critical for the future growth and longer-term objectives of the business. In such competitive (and potentially costly) times, it has never been more important for firms to consider whether they have the culture, working environment, and career pathways that retain, motivate, and protect their most important assets.

Jo Kangurs is a HR consultant at Symphony Legal