Key drivers in the quest for employee retention in the accountancy sector
10 May, 2022
Recruitment and retention have been difficult in the accountancy sector in Ireland in recent years, but Malone & Co have strategies to help ensure firms retain the best employees.
Recruitment in the accountancy sector has been problematic for some years now. While accountancy services are in great demand from businesses of all sizes across Ireland, the number of people qualified to do this simply hasn’t kept pace.
There are several reasons behind this; demand has increased for services, while COVID-19, saw some of those working in accountancy practices quit and follow their passions in other sectors, while others have retired.
This lack of personnel has served to drive up wages – which is great news for employees – but it is providing headaches for those who run accountancy firms, who are seeking to plug any skill gaps they find and often struggle to do so. This is not limited to firms in the capital – the scenario is repeated across the country is places such as Limerick, Wexford and Kildare.
Of course, this can lead to accountancy practices poaching employees from each other. While poaching is often frowned upon, it is something that has gone on since the dawn of the profession: employers always want the best employees, and some are willing to go to great lengths to recruit them from their rivals.
Employees moving on also cause problems for employers. There is the expense of having to recruit a replacement, plus there is the disruption to the internal team and to the relationship with customers that it can cause. Accountancies build strong relationships with clients, but these take time to build and having to rebuild those from scratch repeatedly can affect efficiency – as well as potentially annoying the client.
This is why employers must do all they can to retain their existing staff. And it isn’t just about who offers the biggest pay packet or greatest number of employee benefits; having worked in accountancy practices for some time, it is often these three things that make the difference for employees:
• Do you see me? • Can you hear me? • Does what I say matter?
Do you see me?
Employees do not want to feel like an anonymous cog in a machine, no matter how large or small a firm is. Management should always seek to know all their employees. It may seem like a small thing, but being able to ask about, for instance, their children, makes employees feel valued.
Being seen also means that success should be rewarded. If employees are performing well and going above and beyond to win contracts or provide excellent services to clients, then their superiors need to show their appreciation. This could be anything from paying out bonuses – although it is always advisable to have a bonus structure in place if this is done – to taking a team out for a meal or drinks. Sometimes, a simple email saying how much you appreciate their work can have a motivational effect.
But this should not be done in isolation, it should be part of a wider company culture that promotes hard work, individual growth and clear routes to career progression.
Employees can quickly become disillusioned if they feel they are stuck in a particular role with no perceived chance to move up the hierarchy and are therefore more likely to leave to progress their career elsewhere.
To counter this, employers should have a range of training opportunities and mentorship programmes available to help employees to advance their career. Not only is this more likely to engender more loyalty from talented employees and keep them motivated, it will also save the employer the cost of having to recruit replacements externally, which can be time-consuming, costly and prone to not providing optimal results.
Employers should take time to speak to each employee to understand their ambitions and map out a route for them to realise their goals within the firm.
Can you hear me?
Management should never appear to be remote, faceless or uncontactable. It can lead to a ‘them and us’ developing culture in a firm, which can harbour grievances and lead to employees feeling undervalued and therefore more likely to quit.
Therefore, it is important for the management of a firm to regularly consult employees and ensure they have a voice. This can be through various mechanisms such as employee bodies, employee surveys and grievance procedures.
On an individual level, regular performance reviews are important for both employer and employee. It gives the employer the chance to tell the employee how they are doing and provide praise for a good job – which, as mentioned, is motivational – or give pointers to improve performance. But it also gives the employee the chance to air any grievances or needs they may have to help them do their job more effectively.
Fairness is also important. If management are thought to be unfair on an issue – such as with how bonuses are distributed – it can lead to employees resigning. It doesn’t matter if management feel they are right, they must be seen to be fair and consistent with all employees.
Does what I say matter?
No employee wants to feel undervalued. It is one thing having feedback mechanisms for employees, but if these are not listened to and do not result in positive change to, for example, working practices then it can be demotivating for employees.
Employers should look to be flexible to accommodate employees’ needs and wants. For instance, requests for flexible working arrangements should be heard. In the post-COVID era many employees want hybrid working arrangements – working some days in the office, others at home – to give them a better work-life balance.
This is all part of employee wellbeing, which is vitally important. An unhappy employee will not work to their potential and could look for other employment.
A key part of wellbeing is mental health, and employers have an ‘open door’ policy for any employees that may be struggling with their mental health. Encouraging employees to talk about any problems they are experiencing is beneficial for all sides. It gets a problem into the open, stops it becoming a bigger problem and means it can be addressed and ensure the employee can achieve their potential. Being open is also known to help engender loyalty in employees.
Employees are also the people at the ‘coal face’ and can have a better perception of what is happening in the market, or with a client, than those in management are more focused on the strategic direction of a firm. Suggestions they have should always be taken seriously.
Employee retention is vital for accountancy firms that want to thrive. The Irish economy is set for growth again, which will drive the requirement for accountancy services even higher in the coming years, and top talent will be in ever more demand to service that. With only a limited pool of talent in Ireland – and only a certain number completing their qualifications each year – accountancy firms will need to fight hard to keep hold of their best employees. But by ensuring these key questions are covered, they are much more likely to be successful in that endeavour.
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