Develop Work-Life Integration and Flexible Work Schedules

Businesses lose between $450 billion and $550 billion per year due to employee disengagement and burnout. Research shows that more autonomy produces a happier and more engaged employee rather than increased pay, especially with regard to Millennials.

Work-life integration is different from work-life balance. Work-life balance views work and life as separate spheres competing against one another for time and attention. It doesn’t work well, especially in the knowledge economy where it’s difficult to shut down one part of life for another part of life. Work-life integration acknowledges that each part of life shouldn’t compete for time seeking an equal balance, but instead seeks each part of life helping to support and nurture other parts of life. It’s creating supportive structures within our professional, personal lives and communities and not a single-minded focus on maximizing one aspect of life. It’s the intersectionality of: work, home, community, and self. What that translates into is that each aspect of life becomes integrated without sacrificing any other aspect of life and viewing each aspect as supporting and nurturing of other parts of one’s life.

Perhaps the most important aspect of work-life integration is finding the passion of each person. If a lawyer can thread, for example, a love of art through each sector of their lives, that attorney will be much more likely to find not only success but sustainability. If an employee is allowed to pursue their passion at work for 5-10% of their time, they are much more likely to be happy, healthy and will remain longer at a position. If you’re able to pinpoint what truly inspires a colleague, you’re able to make a connection. That connectedness is critical in identifying how to retain an employee and also how to engage and motivate them. It’s the difference between thriving in a workplace and surviving in a workplace. Google, for example, has a 20% rule which allows employees to devote an entire day each week to a Google related passion project of their own choosing. The results are “phenomenal”.

Recommendations for helping employees achieve work-life integration include:

  1. Set values rather than policies in the workplace.
  2. Encourage flexible schedules including remote work and project based work.
  3. Encourage and award vacations to avoid burnout.
  4. Reward employees who exemplify the values of an organization and not simply for winning or bringing in a new client.
  5. Encourage dialogue.
  6. Encourage self-expression.
  7. Encourage using “work hours” to fulfill personal/home needs.
  8. Support individuals bringing their authentic selves to work
  9. Consider on-site services (in-house health clinics and mental health services so employees can seek help early; offer free nutritious meals and massage therapists on-site).

In a post-COVID economy, flexible and remote work options are now expected by employees. Although many industries already use different work arrangements to maximize productivity and to reduce burnout, the legal profession has been slow to adopt many flexible work options. Flexible schedules and remote work respect lawyers’ desire for autonomy and control over professional and personal lives.

Ways that legal organizations can promote that sense of autonomy is by strategically delivering a message of flexibility in where, when, and how lawyers meet their employment obligations. Examples of these messages include creating policies that explain that an inability to meet a billable hour target will not automatically result in termination or that encourage lawyers to proactively discuss why they may not meet a target without fear of penalty. They demonstrate the firm values employee health, renewal, and commitment to family more than a single metric of time. Likewise, setting a maximum limit on the number of billable hours that may be rewarded reinforces the message that quality performance and client service is the firm’s main objective. In addition: there is value in time off. Assume every firm employee will have at least two weeks of vacation a year when creating billable hour targets.

            Further, legal employers should recognize that an inability to “disconnect” due to technology interferes with well-being. Studies show individuals will actually hold their breath while scrolling through and checking email. Accordingly, think about an organization policy to discourage email use at night or before a certain hour in the morning. Leadership is instrumental in forming new habits for an organization. Leaders within a legal organization should not routinely break the rule of respecting an employee’s personal time and should refrain from setting 24/7/365 communication expectations.

Beyond flexible schedules, employees should be encouraged to disconnect from work and recharge by taking vacations and not engaging in any work while they are on vacation. Taking extended breaks from work makes employees happier and more productive (68%). Some companies have encouraged employees to use vacation time by paying them. Many tech industry leaders have already recognized burnout is a very real danger and they’ve used creative ways to encourage time away from the office. FullContact started giving “paid, paid vacations” where they pay employees $7,500 to take a full vacation. The legal profession should value their attorneys and employees as much as other industries.


ActivityChallenge Level
1. Provide real-time feedback. It is critical for employees to
obtain real-time feedback especially in remote work situations.
2. Clearly communicate that if a family or personal
obligation arises and interferes with a lawyer’s ability to
meet billable hour requirements, the organization will endeavor to
provide flexibility and support.
3. Permit employees to engage in pro bono legal services and have those hours count towards billable hours.Easy
4. Set annual minimum hour requirements based on the
assumption that employees will take at least two weeks off during the course of the year.
·       Create and communicate a vacation policy and generate an organizational culture to support employees for taking allocated vacation time.
Easy – Moderate
5. Offer a range of flexible work options including, but not
limited to:
·        Remote working availability;
·        Reduced work hours plan;
·        Balanced hours plan;
·        Sabbatical availability;
·        Job sharing;
·        Compressed schedules;
·        On-ramping.
Easy – Moderate
6. Develop policies that encourage lawyers and staff to curb email use outside of office hours and while on vacation.
Share those policies with clients.
Easy – Moderate
7. If it is within the organization’s business model, promote non-partner track promotional options.Moderate
8. Create transparent remote/flexible work policies and
encourage their use.
9. Provide opportunities for face time without implicitly or
explicitly penalizing those who engage in less face time.
Acknowledging that each person works differently from the
next, there should be opportunities for regular check-ins and
face time to allow colleagues who are seeking it an ability to
connect/share knowledge.
In providing these opportunities, however, it is important not to penalize those employees who need less face time or choose
not to engage in substantive face time. Opportunities for face
time should always be an inclusive invitation, not an exclusive one.
10. Create and communicate a policy that protects lawyers
from automatic termination for failing to meet minimum
billable hour or other productivity requirements, including first time bar exam failure.
Moderate – Challenging
11. Consider a maximum cap on the number of billable hours for which lawyers can be rewarded or compensated in any
given year.