Feature

The Face of ML Well: Amanda Smith

April 10, 2019

For almost 20 years, Amanda Smith has been preparing for her role as Chief Engagement Officer at Morgan Lewis. As an associate, head of the pro bono program, leader of associate talent, and a partner, she has a unique view of our particular firm culture and what motivates our people. Here Amanda shares more about her new role and the plan to make sure everyone at Morgan Lewis feels engaged in their work and aligned with our goals.

Tell me about your current position here.

As chief engagement officer at Morgan Lewis, my role is to ensure the experience of everyone who works at the firm is as positive as possible. That means looking at the firm’s systems and processes in an interdisciplinary way in order to promote connection within our community and a sense of emotional investment in work. Looking at talent and firm culture through this lens of employee engagement is unusual, if not unique, at law firms.

If this is a relatively unique role at a law firm, how did it come about?

I think it is pretty straightforward.  People want to work in places that see and hear them,  give them an opportunity to grow and a sense of purpose.  The science backs that up.  Companies that invest in these areas have a more satisfied workforce – people who are more productive and more personally engaged, who are likely to stay longer.  This benefits all of us – everyone who works here and our clients too.  So if you think about it that way, it is just common sense that we would focus on employee well-being as our first initiative under the engagement umbrella.  Engagement and well-being are mutually reinforcing concepts.  I also personally think it’s a sign of a really healthy organization – to invest so heavily and in a real way in employee health.

How do you increase employee engagement?

One basic characteristic of an engaged employee is someone who finds a sense of purpose or meaning at work, but that can mean a lot of different things and there is no “one size fits all” approach. If you feel like you are part of a team, your sense of purpose could be not letting down that team. It can mean having pro bono work as part of your regular practice or using your unique skillset in a new way. Having that sense of meaning is one of the things that leads to increased engagement.

Across generations, people want to feel a sense of belonging. Being connected to a supportive community in the workplace can mean feeling connected to other employees or clients. But that is really challenging in a global organization, where the advent of technologies that allow us to work well across time zones can also create a sense of isolation.

Also and very importantly, when you talk about that sense of belonging, there is a very clear connection in my mind between that and our diversity and inclusion efforts. We can’t have that sense of belonging unless we work hard every day to promote an inclusive workplace.

What are you most looking forward to with the increased attention on employee engagement?

I’m excited to continue expanding the curriculum offering under ML Well. And we are going to roll out an exciting new Corporate Social Responsibility program, which is very well accepted in the business world, but is just making its way into the legal field. Personally, I’m very excited about starting to work on that.  

What does well-being mean to you?

As we’ve developed ML Well, it’s been an interesting and informative exercise for me personally to think through that precise question. It’s been really great to learn in a deep way about positive psychology and how well-being is more than just the absence of illness. I think we all fall into this trap sometimes thinking that if we don’t have a diagnosed medical condition, we are “well.” But it doesn’t work that way; you’re not well or unwell. It is not binary. It’s a continuum. There’s a lot to be done to move a person from a neutral position to a positive one. The empirical research in this field conclusively shows that you can make pretty modest interventions in your own life that cumulatively can make a real difference to your personal well-being and that is one area where I think employers can really make a huge difference.

How do you maintain your own well-being?

I try really hard to practice yoga. It’s one of those things you can do anywhere, which is great when I travel. And because there are a lot of apps and YouTube channels, there are a lot of different resources to help me squeeze it in depending on the time I have. But it’s more than just exercise for me to have a good sense of well-being. Because I have been working full-time, plus some, to get this program up and running, and I have three small kids, I actually scheduled an hour on my calendar to make doctor’s appointments and pay bills – super basic things that get pushed to the wayside when work and life get too busy. Sometimes these small life hacks make all the difference to feeling settled.

What is one thing that always puts a smile on your face?

My kids. I have an 8-year-old and 5-year-old twins. I framed their kindergarten artwork in my office so I always have a lot of color!  It is way better than looking at diplomas!