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Are You Struggling to Retain Talented Staff? 10 Strategies to Try

At the best jobs, employees actually look forward to the week to come, to the opportunity to get back into the office and produce great work.

If you think that sounds too good to be true, you’re not alone. Accounting firms are seeing their potential workforce decrease and experiencing attrition at high rates. Utilizing these 10 strategies might help you keep employees happy, connected and invested in their work with your firm.

Make work meaningful

Young workers want many of the same things previous generations have sought. However, one area where millennials stand out as different from their Boomer and Gen X counterparts is their desire to “use their skills for good.”

The under-40 workers your firm is seeking to attract or retain are interested in knowing they’re making a difference. While they still care about salary and career progression, more than half would be willing to take a pay cut in order to know they’re making a difference in the world.

Making a difference doesn’t have to mean working for a charitable organization. You can give your employees a sense of meaning and purpose within any company through providing guidance, opportunity and direction.

According to the Harvard Business Review, employees are willing to leave a job when they feel that their contributions are unimportant. They leave jobs where they don’t feel that their strengths are being used and valued, or where they don’t see opportunities to grow their knowledge or give back to their company, colleagues or community.

Invest in technology

At a time when profit margins continue to be squeezed, it can be tempting to stay status quo on the topic of technology. After all, if you’re concerned about retaining the right people at your firm, shouldn’t any additional capital investments be made on making their lives a little better in the office with break room perks or bigger desks?

Employees probably wouldn’t say no to any of the former; however, on a day-to-day basis, the technology they interact with at work has a tremendous impact on their quality of life.

According to Workplace Insights, the vast majority of workers say that interacting with modern technology matters more to them than having improved office aesthetics. And, providing workers with up-to-date technology is more likely to keep them locked in to your firm, instead of looking for opportunities elsewhere and potentially taking clients with them.

Some firms balk at this idea because the cost of technology and innovation can be hard to stomach; accounting firms surveyed in the Inside Public Accounting 2018 National Benchmarking Report reference technology investments as a key reason for decreased revenue. However, there’s an opportunity cost that comes along with skipping tech investment.

Investing in innovative technology can provide opportunities to automate processes that are timely and costly, thus freeing up staff for meaningful work. Making that decision may require an initial outlay of funds but can pay dividends through improved productivity and efficiency.

As one example, when accounts receivable headaches begin to snowball at a firm, they affect more than the administrative staff. They create tension for everyone interacting with the client, from the client service team to the professional staff to firm leadership.

Implementing client-driven, self-service payment options can eliminate the time and resource commitment related to tracking down and controlling accounts receivable. And, they can be handled through cost-effective technology partnerships that free up funds to be used to enhance innovation, bolster recruitment or introduce other measures that improve retention.

Recruit the right audiences in the right ways

Give potential employees the right impression from the beginning. If you’re interested in employees who use technology fluently, advertise in places where those folks are most likely to look, including online forums, college programs and job search aggregation sites.

And, consider opening up your recruiting pool multi-fold by expanding opportunities for remote work. When your talent pool is open to potential candidates across the country, rather than only in the city where your physical business is located, you increase opportunities to bring on valuable team members with varied experience.

One caveat: to bring on remote staff, make sure you put effort into designing a work environment that will support them. Make them feel included in meetings and discussions by investing in technology for instant messaging, videoconference meetings and online project tracking systems.

Be open to movement

The candidate pool for CPA firms continues to shrink, partially because the market for accountants continues to grow. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field will continue to experience high growth during the coming decade.

However, the openings in the accounting sector aren’t always connected to accounting firms. With the boom in innovative and disruptive start-ups and other businesses, promising candidates may be more interested in a position as an accountant for a sports, fashion or technology company than working within the stereotypical CPA firm with long hours and to-the-minute billing.

You can combat the frustration employees feel when being pigeonholed into a role by giving them the opportunity to move, learn and grow within the firm. Working with a variety of leaders can help them to find a mentor that fits their personal style and goals, and they may find a client or an area of expertise that perfectly suits them without looking outside the firm for fulfillment.

Accounting firm MCG encourages employees to move between groups in order to remain satisfied and engaged. To make this happen, the firm has built its culture on trusting relationships, “tough love” and creating opportunities for advancement in a non-linear path.

Eliminate soul-sucking work

Removing repetitive process-oriented work can make life more invigorating. Taking away cumbersome processes and replacing them with efficient technology can make it easier to offer employees meaningful work.

When you feel comfortable the behind-the-scenes mundane efforts are happening to keep the bills paid, you can expand your realm of focus. And, when less energy is devoted to projects that can be automated, more energy can be used for creative problem-solving efforts, which makes people feel involved, invested and engaged.

As another example, making client calls for collections is a task any employee in their right mind would dread. Using a 24/7 online portal for payments, and offering payment flexibility, can cut down on those uneasy conversations and remove one of their most-hated tasks from your employees’ plates.

Meld fields

Accounting firms are seeking additional opportunities to bring in revenue by providing advisory services to support clients in addition to more traditional audit and assurance services.

Consider giving your employees the same opportunities to cross over into new functional areas and use their expertise in new ways. For example, rather than losing an employee who loves tinkering with the latest gadgets to an intriguing start-up, give her the opportunity to work in an advisory services capacity for a tech client.

Some firms go a step further and make these opportunities a regular part of their employee development processes, even giving an opportunity for a rotation to the client side to better understand client operations, goals and needs.In these ways, you both get the best of both worlds: she gets the opportunity to grow her interest and knowledge in a particular area, and you get a happier, more engaged employee.

From a practical standpoint, the boost to the bottom line from providing an additional service can be a boon as well.

According to IPA, just an addition of 5 percent in additional revenue from providing these non-traditional services can lead to an additional $2.5 million in revenue. Using a fee financing approach to help clients handle their current expenses can make them feel comfortable and prepared to take on the additional services, which in turn, continues to strengthen relationships with both employees and clients.

Commit to transparency

Employees want to believe they are doing worthwhile things during their workday; no one wants to feel like just one more cog in a machine. One way you can give employees assurance that they are necessary to your business efforts is by sharing information transparently with them.

Be open with your staff about the problems you’re facing, and the goals you want to reach, then listen and utilize their feedback. Staff members want to understand what the business needs, and they want to put their minds to work solving problems.

When they have a better understanding of how the firm makes money, how the firm could be more efficient and how the firm could grow, they better understand their part in it. For example, if employees know that a firm goal is to deepen relationships with clients by expanding the services they take advantage of, they’ll be able to share details on flexible programs that allow clients to budget for additional work with less stress over their finances.

This comprehension of the overall process, and the knowledge of the firm’s overarching objectives, can encourage team members to go the distance with your firm when considering whether it’s worth it to stay with you, to move forward on a partner track, etc.

Offer flexibility that fits

Many managers conflate fairness and equality when it comes to work situations. However, because each worker is different, retaining employees can hinge on providing flexibility that fits their needs.

Accounting firms have stagnated when it comes to female partnership, even though female staff continue to outnumber males in every size firm. If you employ promising female workers, discuss what works for them individually, rather than grouping women from all different life stages together.

For some women, demanding a high percentage of in-office face time may conflict with their family management roles, but allowing them to work from home at more flexible times could allow them to be even more productive and to still feel they have a path for career progression.

Younger workers are often cited as being interested in flexible work arrangements, but data shows that in the accounting field, older workers desire flexibility as well. Employees who may feel burnt out and ready to retire could feel motivated and energized by the opportunity to consult or work part-time for the firm, thus allowing you to retain them and maintain their institutional knowledge.

Develop mentoring programs

The work involved in preparing for the CPA exam can be daunting to young professionals, and the uphill climb to partnership can be discouraging for employees who need to alleviate financial stress in the short term.

In order to make a mentoring program feel beneficial to both sides, ensure there are clear goals and a commitment to honest feedback. If developed properly, mentoring programs can keep your high-potential employees mentally invested in the firm early in their career, while also creating a renewed sense of purpose and vision in employees who have been on staff for a while.

Use training and development dollars in meaningful ways

Employees want training to help them do their jobs well and to give structure and meaning to their careers. However, many companies are reluctant to invest in training opportunities for their staff.

According to the Washington Post, training resources for employees have decreased precipitously. In the 1970s, workers received more than two weeks’ worth of training on average each year. Today, workers spend less than two days, and the training doesn’t necessarily apply to their profession.

When workers spend time in training sessions on workplace safety, appropriate workplace behavior or highly specific process training, companies may feel protected from liability, but they’re doing an injustice to both their employees and their future success.

Continuing education is a must for keeping your accounting staff educated and engaged; ┬áhowever, don’t overlook the need for training and tools for your support staff. Groups like the CPA Firm Administrators Association offer resources to provide ongoing growth for these employees as well, so they stay in place and continued providing necessary firm infrastructure.

Making life easier for your support teams, from IT to bookkeeping to human resources, is money well-spent.

As an example, spending training dollars teaching administrative employees to manage an invoicing process ensures they know exactly how to go step-by-step through that process each month. But automating the process and using convenient financing tools for payment management means spending less money on training staff for repetitive tasks and more on keeping professional staff members engaged and up-to-date in their fields.

Accounting firms are successful when they hire professionals who have been educated to solve problems and who use their intellectual curiosity to create success. By investing in tools, resources and programs to keep these employees engaged, your whole firm benefits in terms of cost savings, innovative growth and long-term loyalty.