After meeting Joanne Boog, Quality Control Manager of Austen Brown Boog at the ALPMA Summit in Brisbane in September 2017, we wanted to learn more about the initiatives her firm introduced to improve workplace productivity, promote effective team work and ensure overall job satisfaction.
“You can have all the technology and training for your staff but if they are not happy, productivity will be low,” said Joanne. “We treat our staff holistically. If staff are happy, work flows smoothly and our clients are happy. Encouraging team spirit and rewarding staff who go above what is expected of them allows them to grow.”
Joanne notes that billing targets are not neglected, but the firm focuses on helping lawyers be the best they can be. Targets, she says, will follow.
“It is ridiculous to expect monthly targets to be met; no month is the same in our industry. People are productive if they know they have to perform when it is most needed – for example, during a family court week, all staff chip in to help where they can, which encourages team work.”
It was the firm’s Staff Care Package which caught the attention of The College of Law at the ALPMA Summit.
“We have built the Staff Care Package over a number of years,” said Joanne. The package includes two counsellors who take staff out for coffee every few weeks, providing an opportunity to check in regarding personal issues. “We recognise that work is only part of their lives,” Joanne said.
Strong policies and procedures around equal opportunity, harassment, discipline and grievance handling ensure essential standards of civility and workplace cooperation are set and met. The firm’s Work Health and Safety policy is supplemented by a Mental Health Policy which the firm developed of its own accord.
“Our industry has some of the most concerning statistics regarding mental health. We want our staff to be protected.”
In addition, the firm provides paid leave for special occasions – birthdays, honeymoons, or simply an opportunity for time away from work after a busy period. This leave is given in addition to the usual leave entitlements available to staff.
“Not all staff receive the same special leave, but all know they will be rewarded well,” said Joanne.
Bi-annual trips away with all staff and their spouses are paid for by the firm and organised by staff members.
Staff also vote bi-monthly on a staff award; the prize is a dinner for two, or two tickets to the theatre or movies. In-house massages are available for staff on National Administrative Support Staff Day, while an onsite Nespresso machine cuts coffee costs and keeps caffeine flowing all day. Employees receive a birthday gift from the firm on their birthday, and support for courses or degrees related to their work.
“We have guided one staff member through his law degree, with another to finish next year, and another who has just completed her first year. We encourage our staff to go beyond what is usually offered, and if the course relates to their work it is paid for by the firm.”
With such comprehensive staff incentives, the firm has enjoyed unusually high staff retention and productivity.
“Our firm functions incredibly well,” said Joanne. “Staff support and encourage one another, and this is rewarded by owners and the management team. Negativity does not last.”
For employers looking to emulate the success of Austen Brown Boog, Joanne encourages managers to treat their staff well.
“Look after their health and their work. Provide them with what they need and reward them when they perform. That is how you will get the best from them. Don’t place ridiculous expectations on your staff or they will burn out.”
As for employees, Joanne counselled against a sense of entitlement.
“Put in all you can and work hard, especially when the pressure is on. Your bosses will reward you and appreciate your contributions; thank them when they do. Don’t expect things as a right.”“For both employers and employees, what is important is that you respect and encourage one another. That is how you will have a great workplace. It is not simplistic. This actually works.”