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17 benefits that employees like and the firm can afford

A dilemma almost every administrator faces today is how to provide worthwhile staff benefits in an economy that doesn’t allow for extra expense.

So we researched the benefits that legal offices, as well as other types of businesses, are offering. Some are astounding. Google, for example, provides free haircuts, financial assistance for adoption, free gourmet lunches, and an on-site doctor. A Japanese company gives one day of “heartache leave” each year to female employees who lose at love.

But on the practical side, here are the affordable perks and benefits managers of all types say their employees value most.

Topping the list is time

1. Flexibility in the paid time off. In one national job satisfaction survey, employees rated paid time off as their most valued benefit after health care.

They are generally satisfied with the number of holidays, sick days, and vacation days they get, but what they really like is flexibility.

The most appreciated time-off benefit is a block of days people can use as they want for sick, personal, or vacation time.

Employees also like being able to carry a few days over from one year to the next. There’s no guide on how many. Some large corporations are quite generous, but many smaller offices don’t allow more than one or two carryovers, because they can’t do without the staffing.

Along with that, employees like being able to take hours or half days off instead of full days. That way, they can use a few hours for appointments without losing a full day.

2. Flexible work hours. This, too, is a treasured benefit, because it gives staff an opportunity to match their work hours to their living hours. And the employer gets a benefit as well, because it can end up with more staff coverage for the same salary costs.

The approach that’s easiest to manage and most beneficial to the employer is to let some staff work regular hours, let some come in an hour earlier, and let some come in an hour later. That’s a good benefit for a staffer who has to drop children off at school early. It’s also attractive to a commuter who wants to miss the heavy traffic hours. And the firm gets a free staffed hour on both ends of the day.

3. Occasional telecommuting. On the financial side, a benefit of telecommuting is the gas savings, particularly for staff members who have a long commute. But mostly, the attraction is that the extra time at home creates a better work/life balance.

Not every job lends itself to telecommuting. And for a legal office there are a lot of issues to sort out, particularly client confidentiality. In addition, the administrator has to put requirements on and also oversee the quality and amount of work the staffer is expected to produce from home.

But where it is a viable option, most employers say telecommuting increases productivity. Part of the reason is that the employee doesn’t have to deal with the constant interruptions that occur in an office. But equal to that is the fact that people don’t want to lose their telecommuting privilege and so make an extra effort to give their employers good work from home.

Most employers allow no more than one day a week of telecommuting.

4. Community service time. Some firms give one or two paid days each year for participation in community or charity programs. And in most cases, they are programs the firm promotes or sponsors.

The community time can be an annual event or a one-time event such as participating in a Humane Society fundraiser or helping repair homes after a disaster.

For the firm, the advantage is good marketing exposure.

Everybody likes food

5. Break room food. Some managers keep the break room supplied with free cold drinks as well as coffee and tea. Others add free snacks to that.

6. Friday lunch food. Some managers order in lunch once a week. Friday is usually the day staffers most appreciate it. Again, there’s a benefit to the office. Having staff and also the attorneys sit down to lunch together promotes camaraderie.

7. Once-in-a-while food. Management consultants say people respond well to occasional and unexpected benefits, and in the food area, that can mean ordering in dessert one afternoon or from time to time setting out morning coffee and bagels in the break room.

Education is a win/win benefit

8. Speakers. Invite speakers to staff meetings. Topics can be of direct benefit to the firm, such as record management or privacy compliance.

There can also be legal topics. Some administrators routinely have one of the attorneys or a paralegal explain some type of legal work the office deals with frequently.

A speaker might also address things of personal interest to staff —a broker talking about how to invest or a nutritionist addressing weight loss or a psychologist talking about ways to relieve stress. Many professionals—especially those just starting out—are willing to make presentations at no charge as a way to promote themselves.

9. Education from another office. Send one or more staffers to visit another office that is successful in some area of interest to the firm, perhaps record management or operating a new computer program or maintaining the website.

Employees at the other office explain what they are doing and the benefits they are seeing from it, and the visitors come back and make a presentation to the other staff on what they have learned. They can also draw up a plan for putting a similar program to work in the office.

The education can be a one-time visit, or the firm can set up an ongoing education exchange program with several offices.

10. Professional association memberships. Managers in all types of professional offices promote staff membership in and certification from professional associations. It’s a good benefit because it allows staff to advance in their jobs and also build their resumes. And the firm gets a better educated, better qualified, and more professional staff.

It’s also possible to get marketing from the certifications by mentioning them in the firm newsletter and on the website.

There are numerous associations and certifications for all types of professional and administrative staff from librarians to paralegals to secretaries to record staff.

Recognition costs little, if anything

11. Peer recognition. Let the staff vote every month or every quarter on the person they believe has done the most outstanding job in some particular area. It can be client service, office service, or whatever the administrator wants to focus on.

The winner gets a prize, and the best prize is time, perhaps an extra vacation day. But it can also be a bonus or a gift, albeit with a value high enough to reflect what the staffer has done for the firm.

Because it’s not a manager or an attorney but the other staff who choose the winner, the award is a significant one.

Again, there’s a benefit to the office. The program promotes good performance because it puts everybody’s attention on improvement in the area being evaluated.

12. Personal recognition. Almost all management consultants say that what most motivates employees is recognition for outstanding work. And the recognition does not have to be expensive or elaborate or time-consuming.

A handwritten card from the administrator or from one of the partners saying no more than “thank you for doing such a good job on X” is significant to the point that most employees will save it.

Give the same compliment again in a staff meeting, and the benefit is doubled, because now the staffer has peer recognition as well.

13. Appreciation. Follow the lead of Google. Hang a whiteboard on a wall for staff to write down ideas. Tell them that ideas of all types are welcome and to address client satisfaction, office operations, new procedures—anything that will improve or make a difference to the practice.

Google’s theory is that ideas pop into people’s heads at odd times and are usually forgotten if they’re not written down when they crop up.

Discuss the ideas at staff meetings and give credit to the people who have come up with them.

The little extras count, too

14. Bulk purchase discounts. Some administrators share their purchasing discounts with staff. If the office gets a good bulk price or something such as soft drinks or cleaning supplies, administrators will let staff go in on the order and take advantage of the savings.

15. Credit card points. Some offices pay with credit cards wherever possible and use the rewards points for staff benefits, such as tickets or miles or cash rewards.

Most bills can be paid with cards, and depending on how often the office uses cards, the reward amounts can be significant. Some offices get tremendous numbers of points by paying for computers and large equipment with cards.

16. Parking and transportation. Because of the expense of gasoline and parking, any assistance here is an appreciated benefit. Some administrators give out an occasional $25 gas card. Or give transit passes. Or, depending on the office’s location, negotiate a block of convenient parking spots in the building. Or give a parking allowance.

17. Trinkets. Even the smallest things count as benefits. One administrator keeps an eye out for small extras that he can give to staff.

When he goes to a conference, for example, he collects the gift handouts in the exhibit hall and then lays them out on a table in the break room for staff to pick up. Or when he gets a gift card or a coupon for coffee or whatever, he gives it to a staffer on a Friday afternoon.

It’s not an earned reward, he says. He simply hands it to any staffer with a thank-you for the week’s efforts.

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