Employee engagement in a law department results from “business, boss, buddies and briefs” – Part I

By my understanding, an employee of a law department is something different when “engaged” than when “satisfied.” Perhaps this is my idiosyncratic nomenclature, but employee satisfaction connotes to a degree how they feel about some of the external factors that contribute to people’s attitudes about being at work. For example, compensation, promotion opportunities, clarity of communication from above, and office furnishings (See my post of Feb. 6, 2007 about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.).

Engagement runs deeper as it speaks to closely-held sources of commitment and shared values, such as attachment to the purpose of the company. A worker can be satisfied but not fully engaged.

I should note that the link, if any, between engagement, client satisfaction, and productivity is tenuous. A lawyer can turn out prodigious amounts of work while being distant from her job. Conversely, a lawyer who cares deeply about her work situation’s goals and values may be unable to think fast enough and work with enough discipline to be even moderately productive.

Four aspects in particular hold people’s hearts or – if handled poorly and not nurtured – erode loyalty and productivity because of a lack of engagement. This post introduces the so-called “business” contributor to engagement; later posts will discuss the other three contributors.

An important cause of engagement is a genuine belief that what one’s company is doing makes a positive difference. Those in law departments who believe their company makes products or provides services that make the world a better place feel engaged. Such pride can come from technical excellence – our company makes the best baby food – and it might come from a political belief – we are helping poor people – but the more profound allegiance probably comes from a sense that the company’s medicines, products, food, or whatever is sold is fundamentally welcomed by mankind. To some degree, a law department’s mission statement conveys this aspect of engagement (See my post of Feb. 24, 2007.).

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