The pandemic has accelerated the shift to digital transformation, but it has also exacerbated the sector’s employee retention problem. John Edwards, CEO at the Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA), looks at what accountancy firms can do to retain talent in the current climate

Prior to Covid-19, accountancy firms struggled with hiring. Heading into 2020, 46% of small, medium and large firms said their biggest concern was recruitment and retention.

Fast forward to now and accountancy’s recruitment challenges have not improved. Here are a few steps firms can take to help boost staff retention in these uncertain times:

1. Learn the art of flexibility

As the impact of the pandemic continues to decline, recent research has found that half of UK workers are prepared to leave their roles in order to access hybrid working benefits.

This consensus is further supported by data showing that 41% of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year. And another recent survey recorded that nine in ten feel that work-life balance is important to their happiness in a job.

This is why greater flexibility is vital in the effort to re-engage and retain personnel. Post-pandemic a decent work-life balance is considered even more important than having a higher salary for many people.

Before the pandemic, there was a growing desire among employees for more tangible purpose and values from their bosses. It is now crucial for organisations to focus on their culture and employee wellbeing and ensure that they embrace the change in ways of working and are using the opportunity to adopt new, more flexible working practices for the longer term.

2. Invest in training

One area that is also deemed important, particularly by younger workers, is professional development and career opportunities. Some 35% of millennials cite ‘excellent training and development’ programmes as a key characteristic of an attractive employer, according to research. 

Furthermore, 22% ranked training and development as the topmost valuable benefit. Human nature dictates that the vast majority of us wish to better ourselves. For some, this could involve enrolment in a course to learn new skills or having the opportunity to try a different position within the same organisation.

Combining training with genuine development opportunities and a comprehensive career advancement framework can increase employee retention. It can also help boost satisfaction and stimulate engagement among staff. In addition, investing time, effort and money in an employee shows that they are valued.

3. Focus on communication

Staff burnout is the overriding reason why employees leave to seek greener pastures. This is also something which has been compounded due to the pandemic. Addressing employees directly will encourage more accounting talent to stay on board.

Transparency also serves to boost communication. For instance, concealing the operations of the firm from staff, or not seeking their opinions on important firm issues only encourage alienation among employees. One firm’s approach is to tell its staff how the firm operates and how it makes money, leading them to be more engaged and committed: it helps their team see how their efforts contribute to firm profit.

4. Offer rewards and recognition

After pay, competitive benefits – especially health benefits – are routinely cited as the most important factor for employees. Perks also strengthen and reinforce company culture. An Australian survey revealed that only 45% of its citizens are satisfied with their jobs, but among those who like their benefits, that figure skyrocketed to 76 %.

Simply by implementing an ‘employee of the month’ programme, where one employee is chosen who has gone above and beyond that month, makes people feel appreciated and valued.

5. Prevent monotony

The era of tech and digitalisation has well and truly arrived. There is an increasing need for accountants to have an ever-growing skillset in data and technology.

It is about harnessing the opportunity that the digital world brings to cut down on repetitive so-called pen pushing and eliminate drudgery. It is a waste of money and talent. Automating time-consuming, manual tasks means freeing up accounting staff to focus on more strategic work and become a more effective team.

A firm’s best asset

Firms may just need to accept the fact that high-performing and highly qualified accountants will be more likely to look further afield to find the best next step to accelerate their career.

But they must also do what they can to retain these individuals by investing in their best assets to maintain – and boost – company-wide performance.