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Jean-Yves Gilg

Editor, Solicitors Journal

Should employee happiness 'be the bottom line?

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Should employee happiness 'be the bottom line?

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Investing in people can help firms achieve desirable financial results, explains Louise Hadland

Employee happiness rarely features as
highly as it should on
an employer's list of priorities, often because of the widespread assumption that it has little to do with bottom line uplift. We need to leave this assumption at the door.

Academic David Macleod's report 'Engaging for Success' proves that such a link between employee happiness or engagement and bottom line uplift exists, by examining businesses which have focused on increasing engagement,
a key indicator for employee happiness.

The report shows that despite what some managers may
think, engagement can also
be quantified and measured, presenting numerous case studies. With this in mind,
McLeod wants us to take on board four enablers for employee engagement that these case studies all have in common:

  • Create a strategic narrative. Staff should know what the story of your company is and how they play a part in it;

  • Engage managers. Engaging employees starts with engaging managers who need to buy in to the whole process (ensuring the adage 'employees join companies and leave managers' does not apply);

  • Give employees a voice.
    Staff need to feel comfortable in speaking up without retribution. Only then can
    an organisation improve from the inside out; and

  • Make sure there is organisational integrity. The values of an organisation need to be followed no matter the level of the employee.

Part of what McLeod is telling
us is that those one-to-one conversations we have with
our staff - the ones that tend
to focus on the functional and the transactional - need to also encompass other issues, such
as motivation and progression.

Being able to link the
firm's overall ambition to
an employee's role creates a greater sense of purpose and value for staff. This is the story that defines your firm, its
past, present, and future. Having genuine values that
all members of staff live by is also crucial in this story and
for employee engagement.

A great example of employee engagement is the well-known account of when John F Kennedy asked a member of staff at NASA what his role was. 'I'm helping
to put a man on the moon',
he replied to the American president. His day-to-day role was to clean the building, but he knew where he fitted in that
process and saw that he was contributing to 'the whole'.

Plain sailing?

While it sounds easy in
theory, the implementation
of employee engagement
isn't all plain sailing. Dr Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, says lawyers are found to be unhappy people, despite being some of the best paid professionals.

Combined with tight deadlines, the sheer volume
of work, and silo working conditions, lawyers can be left feeling isolated and - contrary to the janitor at NASA - they
are prone to feeling like they
are small cogs in a big wheel. When the bigger picture isn't communicated to them they can lose focus and engagement. This is where McLeod's four enablers come in to play.

We have also identified that 'fit' and 'culture' play a huge part in employee engagement, too. For employee engagement to work, HR and managers should exercise more caution in the hiring process. 'Fit', as well as expertise, plays a significant part in whether or not that particular employee will
be engaged.

This is no mean feat, particularly in the legal sector, as firms are often a melting pot of lawyers who have come from different working backgrounds and cultures and it can be
hard to insist on fit when you have been trying to recruit
for months.

It is important to recognise that not every business will
be a career panacea for every person who works for it. But
if a prospective employee
knows what the values of the organisation are - and its respective culture - then they can decide whether that fits with their personal value set or not.

From McLeod and Seligman, we learn that spending time with and caring for individuals, to understand what they need from their managers, is key to employee engagement success. Investing in people and their overall well-being is essential
to maximising productivity, cultivating client loyalty, and ultimately achieving those desired financial results.

Louise Hadland is HR director at Shoosmiths @Shoosmiths www.shoosmiths.co.uk

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