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Desperate for staff? Inspire, develop… and reward when you can

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Pay is just one ingredient when it comes to creating the sort of work experience that can attract and retain tax professionals.

By Barbara Selmer Hansen4 minute read

If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we can work differently whether we want to or not. Now, people are tired and over it, their priorities have shifted and they are looking to be inspired and have purpose in their work. Flexibility and work/life have come to the fore and accountants are making job decisions based – in part – on what employee experience a practice can provide.

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For employers, the market is tough. Finding experienced and qualified accountants has become extremely challenging. To attract and retain staff, practices must think hard about what they can offer that’s above and beyond what they have offered before.

Here are a few pointers to offering a strong employee experience that will help your practice attract and retain staff, regardless of size.

Be an inspiring leader

There’s nothing more motivating than a boss you believe in and that believes in you. A boss who can communicate the vision of the practice so that everyone can see their purpose and how their contribution fits. A boss who is completely present and inspires staff to work at their best all of the time, makes them feel valued, trusted and acknowledges their contributions in meaningful ways.

And importantly, a boss who demonstrates the company values and addresses them regularly to reinforce the positive culture of the practice.

In other words, don’t have meaningless values. The boss and practice managers must set the example so that staff know what the benchmark is.

Offer flexibility

Whether that means a hybrid home-office schedule, condensed work weeks or modified hours, flexibility goes a long way to supporting a satisfying work/life balance.

Providing options for staff increases satisfaction. It acknowledges that one size does not fit all, and that choice is necessary to combat burnout and mental health concerns. Many have children, others have elderly parents they need to look after, some have sporting or volunteering commitments.

Staff with options can be productive and happy during their working hours.

Encourage development

Some staff have qualifications, skills or interests that their boss knows little about. So a skill matrix can be a handy resource. It should include relevant information on each employee and may even present opportunities to develop staff by giving them new projects based on their interests and qualifications.

In some cases, a practice could avoid hiring an expensive consultant to complete a project because there is someone in-house with the right skills.

Promoting from within and identifying professional development courses for staff are good ways of investing in them and demonstrating that you genuinely care about their leaning.

Maintain a strong culture

Those who fail to act against poor performers and toxic workers risk losing the respect of their team and weaken the culture of their practice. Out of respect, transparency and fairness, poor behaviour must be managed effectively from day one. No one likes confrontation but what inaction does to an organisation can be difficult to undo. It affects morale, work satisfaction and can ultimately lead to the loss of strong performing staff, who leave in frustration and anger.

The reward dilemma

Deciding not to reward strong performance when a practice genuinely cannot afford it can be a tough call. If it’s communicated clearly and with plenty of notice, adopting the tactics mentioned above may help soften the blow.

Avoid being one of those practices that talks up the financial position of the business, only to deny rewards later to those who qualify. That road leads to confusion, frustration, anger and, ultimately, disillusioned staff who look elsewhere for opportunities. It’s a position that can be difficult to recover from and only taints the opinions of staff.  

Instead, be upfront, transparent and fair. Take staff on the journey so they understand why decisions are being made. They may still be disappointed, but expectations can be managed in such a way that staff are not disillusioned or frustrated.

COVID has changed the way we work and – like other businesses – it’s on accounting firms to introduce meaningful ways of engaging their team that go beyond renumeration. 

The ideas above can be implemented in practices large or small, and do not need to cost a lot. Those who sit back and do nothing will struggle to find staff in the long term.

Barbara Selmer Hansen specialises in HR support and coaching and is the director of Impact Business Consulting.

Desperate for staff? Inspire, develop… and reward when you can
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