Most accounting firms can agree that job profitability isn’t the only thing keeping them up at night. Developing rock star team members is one of the most challenging tasks for leaders in any industry to do, but it’s extra critical in professional services. Recent studies highlight that employee turnover in the accounting profession is 3.9% higher than in other sectors.
As the new wave of accountants enter the workplace, a lack of critical thinking or technical skills isn’t the primary cause of turnover. Instead, minimal guidance and poor adaptation to changing demands contribute to the 135,000 open jobs in accounting each year. Understanding the steps you can take to empower the current generation of accountants will be critical to lowering turnover rates and setting your firm up for success going into the next decade.
1. Create Involvement The current generation will not have the most billable hours in the firm or rank as the most tech-savvy. Instead, they will retain the critical thinking skills to bring out-of-the-box ideas to the table. As the employer, it falls on you to foster growth skills throughout your firm. This can be done by allowing the current generation to:
- Make decisions: Making those first few decisions is critical for an up-and-coming accountant.
- Motivate others: Involvement relies on motivation throughout the firm. Encourage young generations to not only remain motivated themselves, but also to push their peers.
- Uphold trust: Mutual trust leads to stronger accountants. When the current generation of accountants feels trusted, they will become more confident.
- Look at the big picture: Fostering critical thinking skills is essential to developing creative decisions for clients. Give your accountants time to analyze the situation and bring new ideas.
- Continue personal growth: The drive to continue learning and growing in their position can lead to higher employee retention rates.
In addition to growth skills, you should provide your accountants with ways to network inside and outside the firm. Engaging in networking events and team-building excursions promotes involvement. Developing trusted contacts and relationships within the firm results in higher employee satisfaction. As the management team, the burden falls on you to provide the current generation of employees with these opportunities.
2. Empower from the top down and bottom up
A robust management system is likely to positively influence the current generation of accountants. A combination of top down and bottom up management should be implemented in your firm. Top-down management aligns the team’s goal and provides clear expectations, while a bottom-up approach influences productivity, engagement, and brainstorming throughout your team. Moreover, leaders are built through learned behavior. Therefore, be sure you and more experienced accountants are setting good examples.
Empowering the current generation also relies on clear communication lines throughout your firm. When employees have transparent insight into management needs, they are more likely to excel in their position. Hold regular staff meetings to reduce confusion and keep your employees on the same page. In addition, promote important causes throughout your firm. For example, solely focusing on billable hours or meeting deadlines can result in workplace resentment and poor working conditions. Instead, focus on your firm’s value and reward employees for adding that value.
3. Offer flexibility with structure
Stuck in the 9-5 mentality adversely affects the current generation. Technological advancements have brought on a new wave of work. As a result, many millennials and Gen Z accountants lean toward companies with remote work capabilities. However, many are reluctant to switch to a fully remote workforce because of fears that productivity will drop. This is not the case, with studies released showing workers were 47% more productive when working from home.
A detrimental mistake many firms make is offering added flexibility with no structure. Employees crave structure and don’t want to make all their own decisions, even if they think they do. If this were the case, there would be no need for management.
Be clear in the expectations and boundaries you set, whether your employees are in the office or at home. For example, offering unlimited personal time off (PTO) doesn’t mean employees can take unlimited time off. Instead, they need to complete all of their work and get approval. PTO requests may need to be denied. Lay out boundaries, create performance metrics, and consistently review progress and reward those who align with firm goals. Keep in mind that you don’t want to control every aspect of their work schedule. You want the current generation of accountants to explore how they work best, such as making lists, creating time blocks, or setting reminders.
4. Implement exceptional training
Finding qualified labor is only part of the battle accounting firms are facing. Putting together exceptional training to get new employees up to speed on expectations and guidelines is also a concern. Each firm has different policies and procedures, meaning you will have to explain yours when you bring on a new accountant. Merging your new candidate’s expectations with your own expectations can be challenging. This is where exceptional training comes in.
Empowering the current generation also entails implementing extraordinary technical training. New graduates don’t always retain the real-world applications needed to be capable accountants. Understanding their strengths and weaknesses can help you uncover areas of improvement as a manager. It’s vital to have resources to help them through the learning curve, as well as a robust, internal knowledge base they can refer to, contribute to, and help maintain. Access to helpful resources reduces the number of questions managers will receive; they also direct new accountants toward industry niches to determine their preferred area of expertise. Finding an area they are passionate about may result in more energy toward their work.
5. Understand how to add value
The current generation doesn’t accept jobs based solely on pay. Flexibility, firm culture, and structure are essential. But it is still a job. Convincing the current generation to bring more to the table is difficult if your firm is not giving them value in return.
What are you giving your employees that has value in a non-monetary form? It could be hands-on experience helping clients through complex situations or taking the lead on a new project. Gauging what your employees want will be the first step in finding creative ways to add value.
School doesn’t teach what is truly valuable in the workplace. It is up to you, as an employer, to show the current generation what that means. Insight into the value you provide clients will be critical as your new accountants work up the ladder. Whether it’s a corporation, CPA firm, or outsourced accounting firm, the accounting department should focus on the firm’s value, not just the work. Give the current generation a purpose and strategic goals to achieve, and you will see increases in productivity and workplace motivation.
Step out of the box
Effectively empowering the current generation of accountants takes careful consideration and implementation of tactics tailored to their needs. Owners need to constantly revisit current policies and embrace change. Don’t get complacent by doing things the way they’ve always been done. Going into the next few years, value will far outweigh technical skills, making it important to understand the shift to retain top talent. Keep these strategies in mind when looking to implement meaningful change in your firm.