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How to test the climate of the firm and staff’s satisfaction with it

What makes a staff a satisfied staff?

One human resources expert cites three core items: management’s communication with staff, management’s commitment to supporting staff, and staff’s trust in management.

To find out the level of each as well as where and how to make improvements, use a climate survey, or an opinion survey on the climate of the office.

Make it an annual event, says human resource consultant Margaret Hintz, SPHR, manager of HR services at the Atlanta office of Insperity, a national human resources consulting firm.

And always repeat it when the firm is going through a change such as a change in leadership or operations or pay structure or during a merger.

It allows the administrator to identify the rough and smooth spots and improve the picture.

Three areas from 1 to 4

The survey is only a rating scale. It gives statements and asks staff to score them on a numbers scale of maybe 1 to 4 for strongly agreeagreedisagree, and strongly disagree.

Every firm has its own areas to rate such as a new benefits or a procedure or time off or pay. But all the questions should fall into the three categories of communication, commitment, and trust.

With communication, what needs to be evaluated is the flow of information, and the statements should run along the lines of

• I know what my supervisor (or the administrator) expects me to do to succeed at my job.

• When important changes happen here, I hear about them from the firm first and not from outside


With commitment, focus the statements on the firm’s support and commitment to its employees, for example:

• The firm gives me the tools I need to do my job.

• The firm invests in training for me so I can be ready for the next step in my career.

• The administrator and partners always recognize me for good work. The ratings here will show the depth of management’s awareness of staff’s performance and whether the firm provides enough feedback for them to know how and where to make improvements.

• I understand how my role helps the firm achieve its business objectives. And that’s a good indication of whether staff’s individual goals are linked to the firm’s overall goals and also whether staff understand the value they bring to the firm.

With trust, focus on the level of confidence in different areas of the firm. Hintz gives two examples:

• Management focuses on solving problems rather than placing blame. Employees need to know they are “in a safe environment” to solve problems and that the firm is more interested in repairing mistakes than in harping on them.

• I have the authority I need to do my job effectively. If the rating here is high, chances are the firm is using staff’s abilities to the maximum extent.

Don’t ask about the impossible

Mention all the things that could affect satisfaction, particularly new things such as a change in insurance benefits, perhaps with a statement that the new benefits provide full coverage or whatever.

But to that Hintz adds a caution: mention only the things the firm is willing to address.

If raising salaries is out of the question, for example, don’t ask staff to rate their satisfaction with the pay. If they say they’re dissatisfied with it and the firm doesn’t do anything about it, their trust will be destroyed.

Voluntary but win rewards

When presenting the survey, explain its purpose – that the firm is looking for the things it does well so it can continue them and also for things that will better their work environment.

Tell staff they will see the results.

And tell them further that participation is voluntary. When people are required to answer a survey, they don’t give candid answers, Hintz says. Voluntary answers, however, are usually truthful.

To encourage participation, set rewards that rest on the number of staff who complete the survey.

Make the rewards things attractive enough that staff will be willing to work for them. Also make them reflective of the level of participation. For a 45% return, the reward might be that the firm brings in lunch for everybody; for a 100% return it could be a half day off.

Anonymous with circles

Along with voluntary, make the survey anonymous. Again, that’s for candor. Without an assurance of anonymity, “they start thinking, ‘how is this going to be used against me?’”

A factor to recognize, however, is that people are usually leery of so-called anonymous surveys for fear they’ll be identified through their handwriting.

One way to avoid that is to use survey software where the results go to a third party. But the easiest solution is to have staff circle the rating numbers instead of writing them. Nobody can identify that.

Two weeks with updates

Give staff a full two weeks to complete the survey, and in the interim, track the participation and report the progress to them and let them know how close they are to the reward level.

If it’s at 45% and it has to be 100% for everybody to get a half day off, send an e-mail announcement of “we’re at 45% and if we get to 100% we are going to have that half day off.”

Results TS plus: A quick win

Afterwards, meet with staff and tell them how things scored. Fail to do that and they know their opinions mean nothing.

Tell them “here’s what you said we are doing well, so we want to continue things like that.” And also, “here are the areas you scored lowest.”

If the administrator has any initial thoughts on how to improve the low-scored items, mention them, she says. However, this is not the time to do any brainstorming Save that for later. Today’s purpose is only to tell staff “we heard what you had to say.”

And to emphasize that, show some immediate action. Choose one low-scored item the firm can address now, and make a change. For example, if the surveys showed that staff wanted a casual dress day and the firm is willing to allow it, set one and announce it in the meeting.

“Give them that change right there,” Hintz says. That’s proof enough that the firm respects what they say. “It’s a quick win” for staff and a quick morale builder at the same time. The firm has just said its employees are important to the point that it wants to do something for them.

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