We all want to be valued. While some employees are staying with their firms – even during an unsettling time like COVID-19 with all its uncertainties – others have left to pursue something else.
That simple equation explains the recent phenomenon known as the Great Resignation, where an enormous wave of workers re-examined their careers and lives with new eyes. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, approximately 4 million workers per month quit their jobs from April through August of 2021. And a Gallup poll found that 48 percent of employees are actively searching for their next opportunity.
The Great Resignation represents a seismic and potentially devastating change for any profession, and it’s already affecting tax and accounting. We’ve had countless firm owners tell us they’re exhausted and stressed to the limit from overwork and understaffing. When you’re teetering on the edge of burnout, how do you find the time and energy to create a firm where everyone wants to work and no one wants to leave? I’ve found that it frequently comes down to firm culture.
Out of chaos, clarity
Traditionally, the tax and accounting profession hasn’t enjoyed the best reputation for work-life balance. In January, you told your family and friends, “See you in April!” and buckled down to a grueling three-month slog. That pattern is a major reason we’ve experienced recruitment and retention issues over the last several years.
The last two years have been even worse, as we figured out work-from-home logistics that were complicated by other family members also working and learning from home. Plus, we endured two prolonged tax seasons where we scrambled to help clients whose lives and businesses were upended by the pandemic. All this was set against a backdrop of constant worry about keeping our families healthy, safe, and sane.
But among the chaos, there was an unexpected silver lining, especially for employees. Without a daily commute, they had more time to spend with the people they love, doing the things they love to do.
It even came with a side of increased productivity. According to a monthly survey of U.S. workers from the Mexico Autonomous Institute of Technology, Bloom, and Chicago Booth, nearly six of 10 remote workers reported being more productive than they expected to be from May 2020 through March 2021, compared to 14 percent who said they were less productive.
Five keys to an irresistible firm culture
The Great Resignation and keeping employees happy isn’t just about working from home vs. working in the office, or even better pay and benefits. It’s about human beings who have realized that life is short – and working through burnout enjoying little fulfillment and return is no longer acceptable. They want to enjoy their lives, families, and careers now, not in 30 years – and they want to be proud of the jobs they do. Younger generations, especially, also want to know that what they do helps our planet and humanity.
At Rootworks, we’re proud evangelists for the cause of a better workplace for everyone, so here are five suggestions you’ll hear us make over and over for struggling firms. Let’s call them the keys to an irresistible culture.
- Care about your employees. In past downturns, general wisdom was that employers held the upper hand and employees would be grateful to even have a job. This time is different. Perhaps due to the element of personal health and safety, or because many of us have lost family or friends or know someone suffering the after-effects of COVID, we realize how fragile life can be. Today’s employers of choice are firms that truly care about the safety of employees and their families. The firms take their employees’ concerns seriously, and they value, empower, respect, and trust workers to get the work done. wherever and whenever they need to work.
- Treat each other like adults. Within reason, give employees a say in decision-making when it affects their jobs. Involve them in training and scheduling decisions. For instance, instead of issuing a one-size-fits all mandated training plan, sit down with each staff member individually and discuss workloads, calendars, and obligations that might affect their ability to complete the training. A one-on-one meeting will also give you a chance to discover whether their assigned training is something that’s more useful in their position now – or perhaps better down the line based on their career path.
- Be transparent. Working in a remote or hybrid setup requires regular communication, minus the micromanagement. Everyone on your team deserves to know what’s expected of them, and how they’re doing on a regular basis. Establish a rhythm of feedback, engagement, and clarity. Share ideas and ask your team for their ideas. Make sure everyone gets a chance to speak honestly. Ask them what is and isn’t going well, and get their feedback on how to fix it. If the solution they suggest isn’t feasible at the moment, be honest. If they know you’re truly working together to come up with solutions and not just paying lip service, they’ll respect that – and will appreciate being respected in return.
- Don’t make work wall-to-wall drudgery. Create opportunities to remind your team what matters most in your firm. Cut those two-hour meetings down and make time for fun. As much fun as it might be, that doesn’t mean batting a beach ball around the office; it means leaving time for everyone to interact and get to know each other as human beings. It could be as simple as a regular team lunch, whether in-person or virtual, or both, depending on hybrid schedules. Start lunch with funny or inspirational YouTube clips, and let conversation flow from there.
- Make goals and expectations clear. Keep your goals and expectations in front of the team on a regular basis, and give everyone a way to check in regularly, whether it’s a short daily or weekly group huddle or regular one-on-one check-ins. Celebrate everyone’s successes. Individually and privately acknowledge struggles, and find ways to help make things easier. Invest in training for everyone on your staff. Not only will it help your employees advance their careers, but you’ll also have trained, engaged employees who are able to fill in, where needed.
Whether you choose to practice one or all of these suggestions, view the Great Resignation as an opportunity. There are so many employees looking for a better, more fulfilling way to work. They want to find someone who not only cares about making things better, but also for the world at large.
Be that firm, offer that irresistible culture, and watch what happens. I promise you that it will be as fulfilling for you as it is for your team.