Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Public Service Announcement: No One is Out to Get You!

Due to the flu epidemic overwhelming my doctor's office, I have recently had the pleasure of waiting for hours at an urgent care facility.  While I was there I couldn't help but over hear the conversation between the receptionist and another patient.  Don't worry, there were no HIPAA violations to report - but there was the giving of some very bad "legal" advice by someone who didn't know what the hell they were talking about.

Apparently the patient had previously been seen for some illness which caused him to miss several days of work.  His work asked for a doctor's note to explain the absence and asked that the note include dates of treatment and diagnosis.  The patient took offense at the request and according to his ranting at the front desk of a public waiting room, this was a gross invasion into his privacy.  The employer was being unreasonable and wanting information they had no right to.  The receptionist agreed and was appropriately outraged on his behalf.  She then went on to encourage him to fight this with his employer and assured him that they had no "legal" right to the information they were requesting.  In the very qualified opinion of the person who answers phones for a living, the employer was being unreasonable and must only be requesting this information as a way of trapping the patient into something nefarious.  By the end of the conversation, the patient was ready to take the case to the EEOC and sue for discrimination.  I doubt either of them thought about the fact that if he takes such steps the "private" information he's trying to protect would have to be disclosed.

The entire time I was witnessing this I couldn't help but wonder if many employees have such distrust of simple and innocent policies such as requiring a doctor's note for prolonged absences.  No where in their conversation was it mentioned that the policy may be to protect other employees from infectious diseases, or to verify compliance with FMLA regulations, or even to disqualify this particular absence from counting towards some disciplinary standard.  No, according to these two the employer was clearing out to somehow screw the employee.

While I didn't get involved in that conversation for a number of ethical and practical reasons, I do want to take a moment to reassure employees everywhere that with very few exceptions, your company doesn't care that much about you to establish procedures and policies specifically meant to railroad you into some disadvantaged position.  Most policies that you don't like have a practical reason that has nothing to do with you.  Some are even put in place to protect the company against overzealous employees who think every policy is somehow an invasion into their personal rights and a reason to sue.

So here's my public service announcement of the week:  No one is out to get you!  As someone who writes policies and approves procedures, we don't really give a damn if you were sick with the flu or drank too much.  I just need to be able to classify the absence as indicating treatment under FLMA or ADA or not.  The policy isn't written or enforced to "get you", it there to protect the company.  So get the note and get over it. 

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Special Little Snowflakes

As the new year dawns, so do lots of resolutions about moving on to the next step professionally. I'm not sure whether this phenomenon is brought on by reflection on one's life so far or the thought of impending merit reviews - probably both. A lot of in house lawyers start evaluating their worth to the company, their skill set and their marketability elsewhere.  It's a time of year where everyone starts to see themselves as special little snowflakes.  But here's the thing, we're not.  With a few exceptions, there are quite a few people waiting in the wings do do what we do.  It's just a pain in the ass to find, hire, and train them.  So as managers we do what we can to keep them engaged and productive.  As employees, we need to understand the effort to keep us engaged and satisfied will cease the minute that effort exceeds the productivity lost to find, hire and train a replacement.

We may not all be "can't live without" employees, but we do generally fit into one or more categories.  Categories, that if department managers would pay attention to, make this time of year and the influx of the special snowflake syndrome a lot easier to deal with.

1.  The Gunner.  This attorney wants to make partner, be the GC, be a leader.  She spends all of her waking hours eating, breathing and being work.  She'll go out of her way to socialize with those in the management wrung at the office, often with the not too hidden intent of schmoozing her way into a promotion.  This person can generally be counted on getting a lot of work done, fairly well, but will also require a lot of recognition in return.  Titles mean a lot to her.  Making sure she knows that you see the effort she's putting in and talking her up to business people when appropriate will go a long way in keeping her satisfied.   If you can, give her a title promotion periodically.  Works best when accompanied by a raise, but an increase is not always required.

2.  The Ambitious.  Unlike the Gunner, this attorney isn't focused on power he just wants to be better.  Better than last year, better than his peers, just plain better.  He takes the opportunity to learn more, often taking on projects and more work that he really should.  He does it to better himself as an attorney, but also to better his marketability and ultimately his paycheck.  Titles are nice, but not all important.  Opportunity is the currency for the Ambitious (and a raise to go along with a stellar review).  Give this guy the opportunity to sit in on management meetings he normally wouldn't be involved in; put him on projects with business people/units that aren't in his normal rotation.  Being challenged, within his potential, will keep him engaged.  Making sure his pay check is better than last year, even if only by a cost of living increase will keep him satisfied and not looking elsewhere.  Give him a 1% raise telling him he's doing a good job but there's no need for him to go out of his zone of expertise and expect his resignation as soon as he finds the next thing.

3.  The Workhorse.  This is your go to gal.  She drinks the company kool aid and will do anything asked of her without complaint.  She's not overly ambitious and doesn't really care about being challenged.  She comes to work, puts in her hours with full concentration and then goes home and doesn't think about work again until the next morning unless there's something big going on.  Large law departments across the world are filled with Workhorses.   And that's a good thing.  We can't all be leaders, and it's good that not everyone wants to be.  Keeping the Workhorse engaged and satisfied isn't hard.  Job security is priority one.  Occasionally tell her she's doing a good job, give an occasional raise to keep pace with inflation and your golden.  You do have to watch productivity levels during business changes.  She won't tell you when her work is drying up for fear of having to find a new job.

4.  The Slacker.  We all met this guy in law school.  Naturally gifted enough to just "get" it, but to lazy to doing anything with it.  He'll slide by with just enough productivity to keep him employed and will occasionally show brilliance at just the right moment.  Otherwise, he'll find every excuse he can to do anything but work.  This is the guy that if it weren't such a pain in the ass to find a replacement - or if you could be guaranteed the budget for the back-fill would be approved, you'd get rid of quickly.  Unfortunately, you and he both know that a body doing something is better than an empty chair so he's safe - for now.  Rather than focusing on keeping him engaged, you need to keep him productive.  Weekly (or daily) check-ins and a bit of micromanaging will keep him on track.

5.  The Bad Apple.  Every once in awhile we come across a bad apple.  Her work product may be great, her productivity high, her ambitions just right and overall an easy employee to manage.  But, she's never happy.  And she complains - a lot.  To anyone who will listen.  She complains about legitimate things like work conditions, and stupid things like the decor in the bathroom.  She takes personal offense at every business decision made whether it impacts her or not.  She gossips about other people's paychecks, job performance and relationships with management.  The worst part of it all, it's contagious.  Her co-workers will find themselves drawn into her negativity without even realizing what's happening and before you know it you have a department that used to be well functioning, but is now one nightmare after another.  If you don't want to spend the next year playing kindergarten teacher with your employees, find a replacement for her now!  This is one time where even if you can't get a new req approved it's worth it to be without the body.

There you have, the major categories of in house lawyers that I've had the pleasure of meeting.  I know that I have definitely fit into more than one of these categories at one time or another - maybe even all.  Recognize any in yourself?  Or your team? 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Forget Resolutions, I have Goals for the New Year

It's a new year and after a much needed vacation, I'm back on the blogging wagon.  I promise to answer all the emails that came in as soon as I get unburied.  In the mean time, a post just in time for New Year's. 

This time of year the question I hear most often is what are your resolutions?  Why must we make resolutions every new year only to break them within the first month?  Most resolutions are boring, restrictive and completely contrary to our personalities.  Just the word "resolution" conjures up images of failed weight loss attempts, missed opportunities and failure.  My resolution this year - no resolutions!   I do, however, have a few professional and personal goals I'd like to meet in 2013.  When I meet them, I will celebrate - most likely by doing a little happy dance somewhere that embarrasses my kids.  If I don't meet them, I will evaluate what didn't work and move on.  No guilt over not having lost that last 10 lbs for me!

So to help me be accountable for my goals, I am sharing them with the world - or at least the dozen or so people who will read this entry.  Feel free to use the comments section to share your own goals with the world.  We promise not to judge you (too) harshly.

On the professional front I have two goals for this year.  The first is to strengthen my network.  I spend a lot of time building my network and it has been invaluable to me at critical moments.  This year I'd like to focus more on strengthening the relationships I already have and focus a bit less on building new ones.  With that goal in mind, I will endeavor to meet with at least one person from my existing network once each week.  I will also be more active in connecting good people to other good people.  What good is a strong network if you can't use it to help out your friends?

My second professional goal is to expand my skill set.  I feel pretty confident in my everyday areas I practice.  And while I need to stay current in those areas, I'm not adding much value to myself or my employer by being complacent in gaining new skill sets.  So by the end of 2013 I would like to add at least an elementary understanding of a new area of law - preferably something relevant to my in house practice.  I haven't decided what that will be yet, so any suggestions are welcomed.

On the personal front I also have two goals for this year - improve the quality of the time I spend with my family.  I've given up on the idea that I can increase the time spent with them.  Until I win the lottery, I have to earn a paycheck and that means being away from my family for long hours during the week.  And since no matter how often I play I can't make those little balls come up with my numbers, I'm going to focus on what I can control this year.  And that is simply the quality of the time I spend with them.  So instead of rushing home to do dinner, homework, bath time - I'm going to squeeze in a little play time.  And instead of spending the weekend doing laundry, grocery shopping, and other distractions while in the same room as my kids, I'm going to focus on them exclusively - at least until they tell me to leave them alone.  Recent events have made me keenly aware that when I drop them off at school on Monday I may not see them again.  So I will hug them a little tighter, play with them a little longer and cherish them for as long as they let me.  And after they've gone to bed, I will focus on my husband.  I will listen to him go on about his latest game or the newest discovery in the news that has him excited.  I will learn more about his interests so I can have a more engaging conversation with him.  And, much to his relief, I will try really hard not to turn every minute of his down time into a "honey do" project.  Although the shed looks great honey!

My last goal is the one I neglect every year.  This year I would like to spend a little "me" time.  As a working parent it's easy to get caught up in the guilt trip that every waking minute should be devoted to your job or your family.  And any minute not so devoted is a minute wasted in selfishness.  Logically we all know the fallacy behind that sentiment, but we nonetheless fall victim to it time and time again.  A few weeks ago a group of in house mom's lamented over the fact that no one had time to get a hair cut because it meant taking time off work or skipping out on mommy duties.  A hair cut!  It shouldn't be so hard to maintain basic grooming.  So this year I will take at least one hour each week to do nothing but focus on me.  Get a hair cut or a mani/pedi, read a book, watch a mindless tv show that no one likes but me, or even take a nap.  One hour where I will feel no guilt for not being devoted to anyone else for just a moment.  Sounds heavenly, doesn't it?

I give myself a 80% chance of actually reaching my goals.  Will let you know in January 2014 how I did.