SRA’s culture review & guidance useful across all sectors

Out-Law News | 22 Feb 2022 | 10:37 am |

Ben Brown tells HRNews about the culture review of law firms carried out by the Solicitors Regulation Authority

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  • Transcript

    The Solicitors Regulation Authority, the SRA, has published a review into workplace culture in law firms along with new resources to help support firms. It comes with guidance that’s useful across all sectors as we’ll hear shortly.

    The Workplace Culture Thematic Review involved a survey of around 200 solicitors and comes with new workplace wellbeing guidance showing the scope of firms 'obligations with regards to safeguarding staff wellbeing’. It found that while three quarters of respondents reported working in a ‘broadly positive’ environment there were still some cultural ‘concerns and issues’ to be addressed, in particular, around bullying, working long hours and financial targets. 

    The guidance explains the approach the SRA will take in cases where they consider that firms have failed to take appropriate steps to look after their staff's wellbeing in the workplace. It sets out the main standards that apply to law firms and those responsible for their culture and the systems in place within them. In a statement the Chief Executive of the SRA, Paul Philip, said:
    ‘We are now publishing a thematic review on what's happening in the legal workplace, helping firms to consider what more they can do to ensure a positive culture, where solicitors at every level can speak up and the demands of a commercial environment are balanced with wellbeing. We also have new guidance on the risks of failing to support and protect colleagues, setting out clearly what we expect from firms. I urge solicitors and management to read these documents and take the necessary steps.'

    Ben Brown has been looking at the guidance and he joined me by video-link from Leeds to discuss it. He told me it has relevance beyond the legal sector:

    Ben Brown: “The review that the SRA have done in theory is applicable only to SRA regulated firms but, actually, when you read the review, the reasons for it, and the conclusions and recommendations that they that they reach, my view is that it's applicable to any employer, frankly, no matter what sector you're in, no matter what industry you're in. I think it's very helpful, just generally about improving culture within the workplace.”

    Joe Glavina: “So what does a good culture look like? “

    Ben Brown: “Yes, it's a good question. I would probably reverse that and say you should know when you haven't got one, when you haven't got a good culture, because productivity is low, people blame each other, there isn't a culture of people being able to speak up, you might not get people blowing the whistle, frankly, people see that as a positive sometimes whereas, actually, that's probably more of a negative, you haven't got people role modelling behaviour that they should be and, ultimately, you've got mistakes happening that people don't take accountability for and you've got people, probably, that aren't as comfortable being as inclusive and as diverse in their views as they should be. People will recognise when their culture is in need of improvement, let's say.”

    Joe Glavina: “War on talent. Important to get this right from that perspective if nothing else?”

    Ben Brown: “It is absolutely. Retaining talent and recruiting new talent are clearly very important in the current climate. One thing you're absolutely guaranteed not to do is to retain talent by having a really poor culture in place. When you have managers that are critical of employees, that don't allow people to express their views, when people don't want to speak up, when people aren't rewarded and recognised for their contributions, that’s when issues happen. You're not going to retain people who, frankly, just come to work and have mental health issues because of the way they're been treated in the workplace - that’s not the way to retain staff - and clearly you get a reputation in the market and, in some instances, the market that is relatively small, people know each other, people speak to each other. You’re not going to recruit new talent if people are well aware that your culture is not quite where it should be and that's why, I think, it's quite important.”

    Joe Glavina: “How do you measure it, Ben?”

    Ben Brown: “Yes, it’s a good point. One of the recommendations that the SRA makes, and it's kind of common sense, is that regular reviews, regular surveys, regular checks in are important. So, for example, appraisal processes, there's a focus on appraisals, they shouldn’t be happening once a year, career performance conversations should be regular. You should be anonymizing surveys and sending those to your staff to get true and honest feedback about what's happening in the workplace, where are the areas that they should improve? You should be introducing anonymized methods for them to raise issues so that you can introduce a no blame culture. People are only going to be incentivized and confident about speaking up if you have those systems and processes in place and once you have those systems and processes in place, I think it will become a lot clearer, and more measurable, about the potential issues that you have within the workplace. So those are some of the things that you could use, and implement, to try and get a handle on whether there are wider issues that you might not necessarily be aware of.”

    Joe Glavina: “What about exit interviews, Ben? Are they happening as far as you can tell?”

    Ben Brown: “So, in my experience some clients are better at doing it than others. Sometimes there can be a reluctance to do it, potentially, where there has been an issue because people fear what might come out of it. Personally, I feel that's the wrong attitude. I think the most successful instances and examples that I am aware of are where exit interviews firstly are conducted by people who have no working knowledge or involvement with the individual who is leaving the business - that can lead to people being a lot more open and honest. Another successful example of the way I've seen it done is purely anonymized, exit interviews with a set questionnaire that can be done online at home within a matter of minutes. There’s a question as to how effective that is but I think people are going to be a lot more open and honest if they know it's not necessarily anonymized, because obviously they’re leaving and that will be known, but if they can put it into writing in a form that isn't necessarily one-to-one in front of someone, I think that can be a lot more compelling to get the answers out of them.”

    The SRA’s resources comprise their ‘Workplace Culture Thematic Review’ as well as their ‘Workplace Wellbeing Guidance’ and we have put link to both in the transcript of this programme.

    LINKS
    - Link to SRA’s resources on workplace culture for law firms