Workplace Infidelity – the Acceptable Affair.

Look, I don’t hold myself out to be an expert on these matters but usually when people marry, they intend for their marriage to last forever. We don’t expect the bride and/or groom to recite their vows promising to be true for better, for worse, for richer, for poor, in sickness and in health – well, at least until they get a better offer!” If that were the case, it would be hardly worth the effort would it? I ask this almost (but not quite) rhetorically. With divorce rates as they are, one could be forgiven for being cynical about some people’s motivations to marry, or at least cynical of any realistic appraisal of their own capacity to actually remain in a marriage.

But I digress.

We are I believe – in spirit anyway – a faithful or, at least, fearful species. We need to have some belief that our current situation will last, or else we feel too insecure to go about the business of living. We depend on a feeling of permanency in order to relax and get the job done. I’m not being critical of this by the way. I think it’s incredibly important. People who constantly worry that the sky is going to fall in on them are not terribly productive people. Unless they are in the workplace. The workplace is a very different creature to marriage and here is why.

I think it is accepted now that almost all of us will have many jobs in our lifetime. There is always the odd Gina Reinhardt but, heiresses aside, most of us will seek out various positions over the course of a career, or, indeed, be sought out for various positions. So it follows that every time we start a new job we need to be conscious of the fact that it is unlikely to be a marriage made in heaven; even if it feels like that to begin with. In short, we are in it for a good time not a long time.

This is worth pointing out because I mentor a lot of new lawyers – many of whom happily state that they will never leave their current workplace; they are far too happy where they are. These new lawyers are in the honeymoon period of their employment sure, but they truly believe what they are saying. This is lovely. But also a little misguided and it can actually operate to their detriment.

If you are in a reasonably secure workplace, I’m afraid you still need to reserve a small corner of your heart for the inevitable prospect of infidelity. More than that, I would advise you to make it your mission to look around – are their other positions in other organisations that catch your eye? Great! Then work towards those positions by utilizing the training opportunities in your current workplace. Keep in mind you need to be completely on top of your own professional development in order to be competitive in the marketplace; not just in the broader marketplace, but also in the smaller marketplace, i.e. within the organization in which you work. Are you happy where you are right now? Great! But don’t stop up-skilling, networking or looking around generally. To do so would just be to ignore the reality of the modern workplace.

“What about loyalty to my employer?” I hear you ask. Loyalty to your employer is absolutely critical but it doesn’t involve a commitment to ‘everafter’. Loyalty to your employer only requires that you be thoroughly engaged in your work, the organization’s ethos, and your own professional development whilst you are in their employ.

So how do you make sure you are eminently employable at all times no matter whose employ you are in? I advise all new lawyers (all lawyers actually) to engage in the following 6 core activities as a minimum:

  1. Create a LinkedIn account if you do not already have one. LinkedIn allows you to essentially have your curriculum vitae on-line for prospective employers to see. You can add to your CV as you go which keeps it current. Record all of your achievements. Add links to any articles you publish. Ask people to endorse you for various skills.
  2. Establish some sort of on-line presence. To be eminently employable you need to stand out from the crowd in some way. You can utilize LinkedIn for an on-line presence too but you can also blog or twitter, publish informative articles online or contribute to websites that cover your areas of interest.
  3. Specialise if you can. You ultimately want to be the ‘go to’ person on a particular topic, area of law or for a particular valued skill.
  4. Network. Network. Network. Never stop networking. Network outside of your organization too.
  5. Be involved in something greater than your immediate job; whether this means joining an advisory committee within the institution you work in but not necessarily related to your position, or sitting as a board member of another organization.
  6. Constantly develop yourself. You need to do 10 points of Continuing Legal Education each year. Double that. Or triple it. Don’t see yourself as someone who does the bare minimum to develop professionally. Being in an organisation puts you in a unique position to actively increase your skill sets via training and attendance at conferences (free) whilst still undertaking the work you are paid to do.

These activities will make you eminently employable at all times. And, the advantage is that it keeps your employer pretty keen on you too. Don’t you worry – they’re watching you – and the more you stand out as being thoroughly engaged, devoted to your professional development, capable of networking and, essentially, making their organisation look good, the more they will work to find creative ways to keep you there. This potentially means more money, more perks and a greater variety of work on offer.

That being said, don’t be surprised if you leave anyway. Even in the best of marriages, sometimes, one person feels that there is a different journey out there for them and that their lives will somehow not be complete unless they pursue it. In the workplace context, other journeys are inevitable as you develop and grow. And whilst potentially fatal to a marriage, different journeys are actually a healthy and sustainable part of every career.