Making the Case for Flexibility

By Charlotte Huff

May. 29, 2004

Being a great place to work  has long been part of the mission at London-based Eversheds. Now leaders of the international law firm, with some 4,000 lawyers and staffers across Europe and Asia, want to encourage their employees to enjoy a better life, too.

    In 2002, Eversheds introduced a flexible work program, called Lifestyle, that’s open to all employees. It allows employees to flex their weekly schedule, as long as they can make a business case that their job responsibilities can be covered. Job-sharing, reduced hours or a compressed week are among the options, says Elaine Aarons, a labor attorney who heads the employment team in Eversheds’ London office.

    The law firm hadn’t been opposed to flexing hours previously. Aarons, also a partner, has been working a four-day week for 15 years. But the program formalizes the work option, Aarons says. Nearly 600 employees work a flexible schedule, half of them enrolling after Lifestyle was announced. “It’s really about insuring that we have the best talent,” Aarons says. “We think as time goes on, flexibility is an area of increasing importance to people.”

“We think as time goes on,
flexibility is an area of increasing importance to people.”
–Elaine Aarons

    In the first year, attrition among male and female employees declined from 21.5 percent to 17 percent, Aarons says. It’s also believed that more women are returning from maternity leave, though precise numbers aren’t available, she says.

    The schedule requests are handled by human resources, rather than direct supervisors, to make sure they’re evaluated uniformly. And employees aren’t required to specify why they’re requesting a new schedule, Aarons says.

    As the program moves forward, the firm is learning new ways to measure employee productivity beyond just billable hours. An attorney may have fewer billable hours because he or she is more efficient, Aarons points out. And thus the firm reaps increased client loyalty–feedback that can be picked up on client surveys.

    Europeans pride themselves on a family-friendly working culture, but a 2004 survey by the magazine Legal Business found that only 68 of the 3,600 partners at the top 10 U.K. law firms worked part time. Nineteen of those 68 are at Eversheds. “I thought U.K. law firms were more progressive than U.S. law firms,” she says. “I wasn’t so sure when I saw that (article).”

    Aarons, who lives the juggling act, concluded this interview after 10 p.m. London time. The mother of three had spent the evening with her children and was clocking in a few more hours before retiring for the night.

Workforce Management, May 2005, p. 66Subscribe Now!

Charlotte Huff is a writer based in Fort Worth, Texas.

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