Florida Lawyer’s Staff Mandate Suggests That Work Life Balance Is About Permission

shutterstock_167965865Mayanne Downs, shareholder and attorney for GrayRobinson, P.A. in Orlando is saying out loud what all women in a dual-income household need to hear: your obligations at home matter here at work.

Downs, a former Florida Bar president, has established guidelines for her staff at GrayRobinson in Orlando.

First, they are free to work the schedule that suits their home life. Second, they may leave the office whenever necessary for a family commitment. Third, before taking a case, they must meet with Downs to decide how much responsibility they’re comfortable accepting.

It seems shockingly simple, but this kind of open and outward policy could make all the difference in achieving real work-life balance.

Even beyond emergency child care needs like snow days and sickness, there are always errands and tasks that need to be completed and it seems no time to accomplish them.  In the 1950’s era family set-up, one person was responsible for working, the other in making sure things were taken care of on the home front.  With both parents having to work out of the house to make ends meet or fulfill their financial obligations, there’s no one left to deal with what needs to be done at home.  This is the system most companies still operate under.

The approach remains relatively rare, according to a 2012 poll from the Society of Human Resource Managers. It found that, although about half of all companies take small life-work-balance steps, such as discouraging employees from working while on vacation, just 10 percent offered formal flex-time programs.

“There’s still an element of rewarding ‘showing up,’” said Anne Perschel, an organizational psychologist who has worked with organizations such as CVS and the Girl Scouts of America. “They still want to see you at the desk.”

There’s the power of what’s not said.  Although my law firm doesn’t have express policies over working from home and taking vacation, there is certainly an expectation that you are always available.  We are all given Blackberrys or iPhones and if you travel internationally you are expected to get a loaner that has an international plan.  And who shows up and at what times is always noted.  That’s the beauty of Downs system according to one lawyer — permission changes everything.

[Jenny] Sullivan gets in about 9 a.m. and tries to leave just before 5 p.m. When she wants to, she works from home. It’s not radically different from what she did at her previous firm, with one important exception: “I’m working that schedule with permission.”

The partners I work for at my law firm have been incredibly accommodating of a more flexible schedule.  We’re still working out the kinks, however, the stigma and aura of secrecy is stronger than I imagined.  That’s why I can barely fathom the power in hearing, “do what you want to do, take care of business and let’s discuss expectations from the very start of every new case or new transaction.”  Even reading them gives me a feeling of empowerment that makes me want to quit and go work for Downs tomorrow.  She’s highlighting the importance of permission.

(photo: Kiefer pix/Shutterstock)

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  • cynic

    Trusting your employees and relinquishing a little control… nah.

  • Rebecca

    Sometimes asking for permission is the hardest part! And when more people do, it will get easier and easier!

  • FormerlyKnownAsWendy

    Do we trust that at these meetings with the employees before every single case, that they really feel it’s okay to say they can’t take on another thing right now?

  • Kay_Sue

    I’d be interested to see how it works in practice. It looks great on paper, but do the staff members feel comfortable not taking new responsibilities if they feel they can’t handle them? Do they feel that they get stiffed for taking this extra time? Do they feel like the policy is fair across the board and consistent for everyone?

    I would also be interested to know how the policy works for people without children and spouses. I know it’s not specific in the memo above, but there are many times where “work life balance”, especially in demanding fields, is something that seems to be applied to parents and not to those that are childfree. It’s a pretty critical concept (in my opinion) for all employees, not just those with families.

    Definitely an awesome policy though. It’s nice to see a firm in a demanding field taking proactive steps in that area.

  • Fuzzy ‘n Broken Mirror


    SRSLY? You have your city newspaper coming to take pics of your office and you don’t clean up?


  • ted3553

    My company and boss thankfully, allow a semi-flexible schedule. In fact, the past few places I’ve worked are similar. I also consider it a demanding field. I have always been able to be flexible to an extent with my start and end times as long as I’m working the hours expected to meet my salary. I can come in at 7 instead of 8 when most people prefer and therefore I leave earlier. I have also been able to take time in lieu when I’ve had to work weekends or evenings and if I need to go to the doctor for my baby’s shots, I can leave early because my boss knows that time is made up. It’s a 2-way street though because if I started to take advantage of it, it would be cracked down on. I am also tough in saying that I and my staff will not work 60 hour weeks regularly so some things won’t get done. I actually haven’t had any backlash ever for that. We work extra when needed and when we can, we take time off in lieu.