You could hear the collective groan go up at the Legal Marketing Association* conference when Professor Catherine Sanderson, author of The Science of Happiness, had the temerity to speak about happiness. As professionals, we’re paid to be analytical, rational and sceptical. It’s simply not within us to fall for all that forced positivity and touchy-feely unmeasurable emotional stuff. But, by the end of the session, she had everyone eating out of the palm of her hand, because: a) actually, it was pretty concrete stuff she was talking about and, b) it really was what people needed to hear.
It also got me thinking that enjoying your work is an important, and too often overlooked, part of building a successful practice. After all, if you’re not happy doing what you do, bringing in even more of the same won’t bring about a rewarding professional life.
So, with that in mind, here are 5 things you can do to be happier and enjoy your work more. (With special thanks to Catherine Sanderson).
1. Stop comparing yourself
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” Teddy Roosevelt once said. Never has a truer phrase been uttered. As professionals, we tend to be competitive types and that usually spills over to constantly assessing how we measure up against rival firms, friends, colleagues and, well, pretty much anyone and anything.
In today’s age of awards, directories and social media, comparison culture for individuals has become out of control.
It’s the same when a rival firm appears in the media for a big deal or for joining a new panel. You don’t know what they’ve done to get there. They may have discounted their fees, promised the kinds of turnarounds you don’t think it’s sensible to provide, or have done something else that would leave them miserable.
So forget about them and think about what you can do to get more of the work you want. Joy comes from focusing on your business, not other people’s.
2. Get rid of bad clients
A lot of how much joy we find in our work depends on those we work with. I know I keep harping on about this, but I think you should actually get along with and respect your clients. If you don’t, it’s time to stop working for them. It really is that simple.
So if you don’t like the people you work for, now’s the time to get all Jack Welch and cut 10% of them. Who should you be culling? Start with those who don’t respect your advice or your people. Move on from those who quibble bills or those who want you to do things you can’t, or you’re not prepared to do. Trust me, you will be a lot happier for it.
And, if you’re unsure about what to say to them or how to go about breaking up without damaging your reputation, I’ve written a guide on ways to do it here.
3. Show some gratitude
Remember when you were young and your parents tried convincing you it was much more satisfying to give than to receive? Guess what? They were right, especially in the context of running a professional practice.
Small gestures to clients and colleagues can have a massive impact on your relationship with them. People remember when you take time to say thanks for a job well done, or you write a small note at the end of a matter. So start doing this more often. And make sure you do it personally; don’t leave it to your assistant.
Even better still, why not go out and start visiting people? Drop in on your clients without any business in mind but just to say hello.
When you’re seen as considerate, appreciative and respectful, people will generally start showing those same characteristics back to you. That can make for a much happier work environment.
Best of all, I think every firm should have a gratitude file. This includes a copy of every note that you’ve sent or has been sent to you to say thanks for a job well done. Knowing that this exists and having it shared among staff can be a massive morale and happiness boost.
4. Scrap your KPIs
Too often I think our KPIs measure the wrong things. Being a great biller is all well and good but if you’re billing bad work for bad clients, that money you’re bringing in is coming at great cost. I think happiness and job satisfaction should be KPIs too. The quality of your work and your relationships with clients should count just as much as volume.
If your firm isn’t bold enough to include these kinds of KPIs for all employees, why not do them for yourself? Plot your general happiness levels over time and see what’s making - or keeping - you satisfied, and what brings your satisfaction levels down. This should help point you in the right direction when it comes to building a happier practice.
For the record, you can see the list of KPIs I think we should all be measuring here.
5. Invest in cleaners
In my blog 'Stop paying people to grow your practice', I mentioned how some businesses were rewarding people in ways that freed up their time and happiness - including getting home cleaners twice a month. Imagine the joy that would bring!
6. Blame your parents
Finally, studies show that there is a genetic predisposition to happiness. We really are born “glass half empty” or “glass half full” people. But they also found that our genes only tell part of the story. Just as important are environmental factors, including the work we do.
And, by putting in place the five steps above, you should be making your environment a lot more conducive to happiness.