Jami McKeon on Authenticity and Wellness in the Workplace

The chair of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius talks about the importance of employee health and happiness.

Jami McKeon

Jami McKeon in her Center City office. Photograph by Colin Lenton

Age: 62
Title: Chair
Workplace: Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which employs 4,000 people in 31 worldwide offices
Trained as: An attorney

On what excites her about Morgan Lewis: The people. That sounds cliché, but it’s why I joined Morgan Lewis. Even though the firm is so much bigger than when I joined, a lot of our success is because it still feels collaborative. People still know each other and look out for each other.

On the biggest lessons she’s learned: You have to be yourself. Authenticity is instrumental to your success. When I started practicing law, there were very few women, and there were people who said, “Don’t talk about your children,” or, “You have to wear certain clothes.” The mantra was you have to be like the boys. But what I discovered really early on is, I could not be working incredibly hard and trying to be somebody other than who I am. People welcomed me for who I am, and that’s what made me more successful.

On being the first woman to oversee the firm: It’s empowering and important. I don’t really agree with “You have to see it to be it,” because if that were true, I would not have been it. But it’s astonishing how many women are encouraged when they see a woman leading one of the most elite law firms. It reinforces that this is not some unattainable thing.

On the phrase “work-life balance”: It implies that work and life are two different things and that you’re trying to put them in balance. In fact, it’s all life. There are times when your work is going to take more of your energy, and times when your non-work is going to take more of your energy. If you don’t harmonize them — if you don’t feel like you can be yourself at work and that you can harmonize your life with your work — you’re not going to have a sense of well-being.

On wellness in the workplace: It isn’t just about being healthier or mentally healthy. It is about being engaged. We created the engagement office and our new wellness program, ML Well, to have work be a positive force in your life. I can’t take the stress out of what we do. But we can create an environment where people feel energized and we have the tools to support them.

On getting four to five hours of sleep a night: I am working on getting more, because I recently read from a neuroscientist that you must have seven. It’s not because I’m superhuman, work harder than anyone else, or like not sleeping. It is because I have never been somebody that is a big sleeper.

Jami McKeon

The owl from Jami McKeon’s desk. Photograph by Colin Lenton

On my desk: The Jeweled Owl. It’s very heavy and probably five or six inches high. My predecessor gave it to me when he handed over the reins. He told me it’s for wisdom. When I look at it, I’m reminded of the sense of responsibility you have in a large organization to make the right choices — to do things in a thoughtful and considerate way. I really value it.

BizPhilly will host Jami McKeon for a Secrets From the C-Suite fireside chat on Wednesday, September 4th. Learn more about the event here and buy a ticket here.

Published as “A Case for Wellness” in the September 2019 issue of Philadelphia magazine.