New Zealand Law Society - Do you love your job?

Do you love your job?

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Are you one of the minority who loves their job and goes the extra mile, or are you coasting along with the disengaged majority of workers?

According to global research company Gallup, just 24% of employees in New Zealand and Australia love their job. The rest are not that fussed, with 60% not feeling engaged and 16% actively disengaged in the workplace.

Gallup categorises engaged employees as those who “work with passion and feel a profound connection to their company”. Gallup says these workers “drive innovation and move the organisation forward”. On the other hand, employees who are not engaged have essentially checked out of their jobs. “They’re sleepwalking through their workday, putting time – but not energy or passion – into their work”. Disengaged employees take things a step further. They are not just unhappy at work; they act out their unhappiness. “Every day, these workers undermine what their engaged co-workers accomplish.”

Having actively disengaged staff can be costly, with Gallup estimating that in the United States alone, active disengagement costs between US$450 billion and US$550 billion a year.

It’s also costly on a personal level for employees. “It saps wellbeing, vitality, satisfaction and fulfilment,” says former lawyer Andrea Thompson, who now runs the Wellington-based leadership consulting firm Catapult.

Highly corrosive

An unmotivated, disengaged employee is likely to show a lack of energy, enthusiasm and effort. “That can look like not offering to take things on that are needed, lower rates of productivity, not participating in things that are seen as extra,” says Ms Thompson.

The lack of motivation can be catchy, with negativity spreading to a disengaged worker’s colleagues if left unchecked. “We’ve discovered from neuroscience that our moods are contagious and that culturally there can be sets of beliefs that are contagious. So, if there are some employees that are having negative conversations about the workplace, then that’s highly corrosive.”


Some employees may feel trapped in a role they don’t like, or they might be unsure of where to go next. “They’ve got a mortgage to pay, they don’t know what else they could do, or they just might not know if it’s time for a total career change or just a change of organisation,” says Ms Thompson.

Sometimes, the thought of walking away from a career or a job that has taken years of study and work to attain is too difficult, even if the reality of the job doesn’t live up to expectations.

It’s not impossible for a disillusioned employee to rediscover their work mojo, but it takes some effort. “It takes multiple touchpoints to re-engage someone,” says Ms Thompson. “Sometimes it comes from within – someone saying ‘I’m not willing to tolerate feeling this way’. I think there are really high standards of personal professionalism within the industry which keep people driving themselves to be productive.”

The importance of managers

Managers play a crucial role in staff engagement. Ms Thompson says managers need to be leaders and to treat employees “as people and actually care about them, and not just relate to them as units of production for their own targets”.

She says staff often leave a role because of a poor relationship with their manager. “In a law firm context a manager is the source of work and the source of teamwork. What are the key things people want out of work? Mastery, purpose and a level of autonomy. The manager is in a key position to either provide that or erode that.”

Challenges of engagement in law firms

The way that law firms are set up can make engagement difficult. “The partnership structure drives competitiveness between partners and a lack of cohesion and co-operation. It’s often quite hard to find a sense of common purpose or vision. I think across the legal profession it’s very luck-of-the-draw as to who people end up working with, and whether they actually value people,” says Ms Thompson.

Andrea Thompson thinks law firms need to embrace a collaborative way of working, rather than the more traditional competitive culture. “Law firm cultures are often competitive between firms and competitive inside firms. They don’t drive a sense of belonging or co-operation or cohesion, which are key motivators for people at work.”

Improving engagement levels

Law firms need to look at how effective people are in management roles in terms of delegating and coaching staff, says Ms Thompson. “Are they having really good check-in conversations about how a person is doing beyond just a task? I think across law firms coaching skills are very variable.”

At an organisational level, firms need to look at their engagement tools. “Things like, are performance conversations just a compliance exercise or a true commitment? Is the organisation looking at trends and themes in engagement levels and what they can do with HR or people processes?”

Gallup says the best way to engage staff and improve business performance is to treat employees as if they are stakeholders in both their own and the company’s future. “This means focusing on concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development and promoting positive co-worker relationships.”

Communication is key

Employees want to feel like they are valued and listened to, according to recruitment specialists Hays. In a white paper called Staff Engagement Ideas for Action, Hays says giving an employee a voice is far more important now than it was 10 years ago. “Employees want to feel that their differences are valued and that they can not only share their opinions at work but that those opinions will be respected. This makes the emerging concept of diversity of thought a valuable one in employee engagement terms.”

Employees want to understand the organisation’s objective and strategy and how they can contribute to achieving them, the firm says. “So increase communication flow, keep it regular, and provide an opportunity for employees to ask questions and raise concerns.”

Feeling appreciated and having their achievements noticed is another important part of motivating people. “Employees want to know how their success will be measured and what achievements constitute success in order to feel that their work is achieving something. They also want to feel that their efforts are valued and that they are recognised when they do a good job.”

In the spirit of clear communication, Hays says performance management should go further than simply conducting an annual performance review, suggesting regular progress reviews have more impact, especially if they are a two-way process.

Investing in learning and development is also a “crucial tool” in both looking after staff and helping them develop their skills, says Hays. “And by showing you care about their skills development, you improve engagement levels.”

Top 12 engagement factors

Source: Hays Australia & New Zealand. For the study 396 employers and 800 job seekers from Australia and New Zealand were surveyed.


Engagement factor

% of employees who rate this as a ‘very important’ or ‘important’ factor


A feeling of being valued by the organisation



Recognition for a job well done



An understanding of how your success will be measured



Clear understanding of how your role helps the organisation achieve its objectives



Clear communication of the organisation’s objectives and strategy



A feeling of inclusion, where differences are valued



Feeling like you have a ‘voice’ and can share your opinions at work



Seeing action taken as a result of your feedback



Clear understanding of how your role contributes to the organisation’s success



A good induction and onboarding process



Regular learning and development opportunities



Yearly salary reviews


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