How do you create a good work life balance in a busy City law firm? Sackers, a leading City-based law firm dealing with pension scheme trustees and sponsors, was recently named a “Top Employer” by the Top Employers Institute in recognition of its working conditions and talent development, with work life balance one of the areas cited.
Julia Perrin, the firm’s HR Director, puts this down to the way Sackers operates, which includes regularly monitoring workloads. “We don’t have a long hours culture,” she says. “We make sure our targets for lawyers are quite achievable and ensure there is a supportive environment.”
Sackers’ lawyers work in teams, with a senior lawyer on each team, so there is an information-sharing culture. “People send emails around asking for help. In some organisations information is power, but we very much have a culture of information sharing,” says Julia.
Part of the reason for the team structure is that the firm works on large, highly complex pension schemes. The team system is not rigid and there are different teams for different clients so lawyers don’t just work with the same people. “That helps with sharing information,” says Julia. “If you are really busy and someone helps you out with a bit of information which saves you a lot of time, you will return the favour.”
There are times when lawyers do have to work longer hours, but Julia says they are not left “struggling on their own”.
The firm, which employs around 100 staff, has a group leader system whereby partners monitor workloads on a monthly basis so some people are not overloaded while others have capacity. “Pension law is a very technical and complex branch of law and we need people to have the energy to think creatively. Doing too many long hours doesn’t help that,” says Julia.
Some 30% of Sackers lawyers work flexibly, a fairly high proportion compared with other City law firms. Some work four days a week or four days over five. Other forms of flexibility offered include job shares and increasing hours over term time and reducing them over the summer holidays. “Different forms of flexible working will work for different roles,” says Julia. Flexible working has to work for both employee and employer, though, and the firm asks people to go through a process to get it agreed so they can ensure there are no operational issues.
The firm also offers enhanced maternity pay of 16 weeks at full pay and four at half pay and two weeks’ enhanced paternity leave at full pay. It is still reviewing what it might do on Shared Parental Leave since it is not sure what the take-up will be. Julia says it has a lot of data on maternity leave, but it is difficult to cost out the financial implications of SPL until it can see what the take-up might be.
The firm offers extensive support for women who take maternity leave. They have access to external business coaches to help them with the transition back to work. Julia says this has helped people balance work and home commitments. In the lead-up to maternity leave, women have a certain number of hours to use flexibly to, for instance, prepare their hand over, and when they return to work they have a session to review their progress around three to six months later. Flexible work agreements are also reviewed regularly to check that they are working well.
Last autumn the firm launched a new internal maternity mentoring programme whereby a woman going on maternity leave is matched with one who has gone through the process before. The firm provides some guidance and advice for the mentors and runs other mentoring schemes, for instance, every new recruit is given a buddy or mentor.
“The maternity mentors acts as a sounding board. We also have quite a few female role models and people can see how different women have made the transition back,” says Julia.
Sackers also offers a generous amount of annual leave, has an employee assistance programme and an extensive wellbeing programme as well as parenting webinars. The employee assistance programme offers online support, a confidential telephone helpline and face to face counselling on a range of issues, including financial issues, bereavement, health worries and relationship troubles. It can also be used by immediate members of employees’ families who do not work for the firm. On the health side, it provides free fruit, a free massage once a quarter, medical screening every other year, free flu vaccinations and a weekly Pilates session plus subsidised gym membership.
“Our people work hard and we think it is important to look after them,” says Julia.