Work-life balance is better in-house but challenges remain

Work-life balance is better in-house but challenges remain
Lawyers leave private practice and go in-house for many reasons.
These include:
• The type of work, including the opportunity to proactively counsel clients and be involved in projects from start to finish;
• The chance to represent one client, know the client’s business, work closely with business executives and be part of a strategic decision-making team;
• To leave behind the billable hour and be evaluated on the value added and quality of advice rather than quantity of time billed; and
• For a better quality of life including more flexibility, predictability and control over your work-life balance.

A recent global report from the Association of Corporate Counsel provides more detail about what has always been one of the most commonly cited reasons for going in-house — “a better quality of life.” Specifically, the 2014 ACC Global Work-Life Balance Report reached out to corporate counsel around the world to learn more about whether benefits designed to help balance work and personal responsibilities are actually being used.

The report, which reflects the views of more than 2,000 in-house counsel in 41 countries, reveals a disconnect between the availability and actual use of flexible work schedules. Unfortunately, the report found in the minds of many in-house lawyers, the stigma associated with using the work-life benefits discourages actual usage. Additionally, those who take advantage of the benefits often find they work longer hours at home than they would in the office to demonstrate they are as productive and committed as those in the office.

Interestingly, in-house lawyers working in Canada and the U.S. rate their happiness with work-life balance more positively (62 per cent and 59 per cent respectively) than those from the EMEA, Asia-Pacific, and Latin America regions. The report also revealed that in-house lawyers working in the U.S. and Canada (57 per cent and 53 per cent respectively) reported work-life balance was a “large” factor in choosing an in-house counsel position. Meanwhile, only 37 per cent of corporate counsel in the EMEA region reported balance as a factor for joining the in-house community.

It appears that global perceptions play a large role in the significance of work-life balance. In Europe, where benefits have traditionally been viewed as favourable, in-house lawyers are more often working unplanned hours and report being less happy with work-life balance compared with their peers in the U.S. and Canada.

Other key findings from the report include:

• 55 per cent of those responding indicated work-life balance was a large factor in their decision to choose an in-house position.

• More than half (58 per cent) of the respondents indicated they were happy with the work-life equilibrium achieved in their current work environment.

• Respondents found telecommuting (91 per cent) and a flexible work schedule (90 per cent) the most useful workplace benefits followed by paid maternity/paternity leave (59 per cent) and reduced hours or a part-time schedule (51 per cent).

More than 1,300 respondents provided suggestions for changes that would encourage use of their employer’s work-life benefits, including:

• Offering individual workplace flexibility that provides alternative work arrangements;

• Providing training to supervisors on how to work with caregivers and implement specific goals relating to work-life balance; and

• Making managers accountable for meeting goals associated with employee retention.

At this week’s 2014 ACC annual meeting, there will be further discussions on these topics in sessions such as “Top workplace law challenges facing multinational employers” and “Avoiding common mistakes in global human resource investigations.”

Certainly, it has been my experience that the in-house counsel community generally seems to have a very high level of job satisfaction for the reasons cited above. However, my knowledge is strictly anecdotal so it is very helpful to have a more data driven assessment such as the 2014 ACC Global Work-Life Balance Report. While it confirms the high level of job satisfaction it also offers a more nuanced view and delineates some of the challenges to achieving work-life balance facing in-house lawyers. I look forward to more research like this.

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