The HR, benefits and wellbeing landscape has changed significantly since the pandemic which is causing law firms of all sizes to reconsider their employee benefits packages to ensure they meet the needs of an inclusive, flexible and attractive workplace.
A new report* from Howden Employee Benefits & Wellbeing in partnership with People in Law, reveals new trends in benefits amongst legal firms including a major shift in working practices and a growing focus on employee wellbeing and mental health. With attracting and retaining talent the number one challenge for legal firms, employee benefits can be an effective way for firms to differentiate themselves from competitors.
Hybrid and Flexible working
One of the most striking insights from the report is that legal firms have embraced new ways of working since the pandemic. Most now offer hybrid working arrangements, with a small proportion embracing fully flexible work options. Interestingly, none of the firms mandate a five-day office presence, which reflects a substantial transformation in the sector.
Looking after employees
The report also highlights that most legal firms offer a very comprehensive benefits packages, including life assurance (96%), PMI (94%), and income protection (87%). This level of coverage ensures strong protection for employees but also suggests that differentiation among the largest London-based firms lies in the level of benefits offered to each employee.
Spotlight on employee wellbeing
Providing employee wellbeing and mental health support is moving up the corporate agenda, as firms are increasingly prioritising looking after their employees. This is in part a response to heightened anxiety among employees, mainly linked to concerns about long working hours and heavy workloads. Notably, eight out of ten firms now have an established wellbeing strategy or plan to implement one within the next 12 months.
However, the report also highlighted that a one size fits all approach to wellbeing does not work. Wellbeing strategies must be tailored to the needs of the workforce, as diverse wellbeing challenges emerged in the report for distinct age groups. Some employees have caring responsibilities and are struggling to balance home and work life, whereas younger employees reported they are anxious about their career development. Some feel there is a lack of peer support and others are keen to have mentoring opportunities and training and development. For firms without a wellbeing strategy, financial education and wellbeing initiatives emerged as key priorities, especially given the ongoing impact of the cost-of-living crisis. A noteworthy 51% of firms with a defined wellbeing budget emphasised their commitment to employee wellbeing.
Impact of the cost-of-living crisis
The legal sector isn’t immune to cost-of-living challenges either and most firms are taking action to provide some form of financial support to employees for example, two-thirds of firms plan to offer financial wellbeing and education programmes. Even firms that do not have a wellbeing strategy as such, highlighted that financial education and wellbeing initiatives are key priorities.
Technology and employee benefits
The report also highlighted that many firms are using benefits technology to increase engagement with benefits and enhance workplace communications. For example, over half of firms are now using wellbeing apps and just under half has a benefits platform in place. And, while a quarter of firms are not using benefits technology at all, more employers are expected to adopt benefits technology in the future as it is introduced more widely across the sector.
Future plans for benefits reform
Many firms plan to make changes to their policies and employee benefits within the next 12 months. Introducing family-friendly policies are high on the priority list, for example, two thirds said they are either implementing changes to their parental leave policies or are planning to do so. Also, several others said they are planning to make changes to their menopause policies.
The research highlighted a notable shift in workplace dynamics. One key trend that emerged was the need to focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and the drive for more equitable benefits in the legal sector is set to continue and will help to shape future benefit design and reward packages. As the war for top talent continues, employees’ expectations have changed too, which means that benefits and wellbeing offerings are playing a more significant role than ever before. For employees, having good wellbeing, mental health support, a positive work life balance and a good work culture are all high on the wish list for 2024, and therefore firms aiming to attract the finest talent must diligently reevaluate their benefits and wellbeing strategies to ensure they will support this goal.
*The report contains data from 68 UK law firms. The research was carried out in May 2023 and includes respondents from different sized companies and different regions.
James has over two decades of expertise in the employee benefits industry. His main focus has been on Protection Insurances, where he's built strong, trusting relationships with all his clients. In recent years, James has specialised in the legal sector, working as an extension to the benefits team for many top 50 firms. This has enabled James to really understand the latest challenges facing the ‘Legal Sector’ and complexities linked to Partnerships. He also prides himself on finding solutions for clients and making sure the benefits being offered are appreciated by employees. James is a member of Howden’s technical committee as well as the industry body’s regulations committee.