Protecting the Team – A Firm’s Most Valuable Asset – by Encouraging Vacations
While the primary responsibility for wellness rests with the individual, nothing is more important to a law practice than its lawyers and staff. The “firm” – Big Law or a solo practice – can do nothing without people; the better those people feel, the more productive they will be, and the more profitable the firm will be. It follows that a firm has an interest in helping its people be healthy and well. How can a firm help?
How often have you said, or heard it said, that you need a vacation just to recover from the stress of getting ready for that vacation?
Vacations are not just a mandated employment obligation; they are critical to keeping everyone fresh and engaged. The firm needs to ensure a vacation reduces stress, not causes it.
Begin by making sure that the firm truly recognizes that holidays are a normal and valuable part of work life. The firm should keep those who will be affected by someone else’s absence aware that a vacation is in the offing. Lawyers should not end up panicked (bad for the lawyers’ health) if they discover Friday that their assistant’s vacation starts Monday. Do not permit them to load up the assistant’s desk when they realize that person is going on holidays – not only bad for the assistant’s health but also proves the firm does not truly value vacations.
Do more than “permit” holidays – encourage them. The firm should monitor who has yet to take holidays and encourage them to get those dates in the calendar. If the firm fails to pay attention, everyone will be stressed as the year-end approaches and the “use them or lose them” policy might kick in. On that note, policies, like rules, are made to guide the intelligent and bind the stupid. If a firm wants to keep its people happy, someone has to exercise a sensible level of discretion to ensure a specific policy does not hurt a specific person in specific circumstances.
The firms’ busiest and most productive people are the ones who most need the vacation and yet may be the ones who have the most stress about taking that vacation. The firm should sit down with such a person and discuss how to make it happen. Determine who can assist with that person’s work in the lead-up to the vacation and handle it during the absence (we have all experienced the stress of thinking what our desk is going to look like when the vacation is over because nobody did anything while we were away). If need be, assure the vacationer – and mean it – that deadlines for work will be pushed back and there will be time given to catch up upon return.