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How Accounting Firms Can Counter The Great Resignation

By Samantha Mansfield

Leaders in virtually every profession are looking for ways to safeguard their organizations against the impacts of the “The Great Resignation” — the concept of workers leaving their jobs to pursue different career opportunities following a re-evaluation of their priorities and life goals. It is largely seen to be spurred by conditions brought on by the global pandemic. 

In the accounting world, a related phenomenon has traditionally taken place in relation to the so-called “busy season,” that timeframe from roughly January to April every year when accountants’ workloads balloon in the face of approaching annual tax deadlines. Some accounting leaders refer to the fourth quarter of the calendar year as the “quitting season” because people will leave before the next busy season starts. There has been an unwritten agreement that accounting and tax professionals do not quit during busy season.

However, an increasing number of leaders today are finding that this unwritten rule is not keeping talent on board like it used to. 

The fact is, no one strategy is keeping talent engaged. We are all unique and have different needs and preferences. The pandemic forced an experiment in remote and flex work schedules. Some firms have reported increases in productivity and fewer hours worked during this work-from-home period. When we afford talent the flexibility to work the way that works best for them, it can increase their trust, commitment, loyalty to the firm and overall productivity. 

As we look at the data on talent management trends, we see technology plays a major role in supporting many retention strategies. It also contributes to the attractiveness of a firm’s work environment. All of this can help stave off the Great Resignation.

First and foremost, every leader should be reaching out to their teams to check in on their well-being and finding out what is most important to them. It is just as important to stay in touch with existing talent as it is to recruit for new team members. By finding out what matters most to their team, they can tailor their retention initiatives, benefits and policies to what matters most to their staff. In the meantime, we can look at U.S. national data to get a pulse of what full-time workers are saying during the Great Resignation. 

Trends in Talent Turnover

Josh Bersin, a research analyst and thought leader on corporate talent management topics, explained in his article “From the Great Resignation to the Great Migration”, that people are leaving jobs and companies that don’t appear to care about them. They are moving to companies that “really, really care.” He says people are switching companies for growth and promotion opportunities, noting, “Workers, many of whom have been freed from their desks and long commutes, are simply voting with their (virtual) feet.” They are even willing to go to new industries to find these appealing work environments and opportunities, he adds.

An October 2021 Gallup article by Lydia Saad and Ben Wigert, Ph.D., "Remote Work Persisting and Trending Permanent,” reported the top five reasons employees gave for their preference of work location. Personal productivity and wellbeing make it into the top five reasons across all three location preferences (home, in the office, or hybrid of the two). This reinforces the idea that we don’t all work effectively the same way. 

Gallup research suggests that a mismatch between where employees work best and where they are required to work could impair employee engagement and, ultimately, employee retention,” wrote Saad and Wigert.

Sixty-seven percent of white-collar workers are working from home, 41 percent are entirely at home and 26 percent are partially at home as of September 2021, according to the same Gallup article. Additionally, nine out of 10 of these workers want to continue working remotely to some degree.

Of all age groups, 30-45 year-olds have the highest resignation rates. These are mid-career, often middle-management professionals. Accounting leaders have been discussing the challenges of finding the future leaders of their firms. If this age group continues to have the highest turnover rate, this could be a real challenge for succession planning.  

Technology Offers a Foundation for Retention Strategies

Technology alone will not shield a firm from the impacts of the Great Resignation, but as we look at the data points above and consider the needs of accounting professionals, it does offer a solid foundation to build upon. 

The move to remote work during the pandemic demonstrated how well accounting professionals can work in a remote environment. This means the job is not dependent on being in a set location, and really doesn’t have to be performed at a time when the client is present. Analysis from the World Economic Forum states, “Businesses that are characterized by a high location independence of the service and a low independence of time…have a high survival probability” and are overall less impacted by the Great Resignation. 

This means it behooves practice leaders to implement permanent remote and flexible work policies and technologies, such as:

To increase productivity and maintain collaboration, a firm’s processes and team configurations should be redesigned. No longer should the workflow and processes be designed around the physical location. Revamp processes so people are able to perform their best and work just as productively at home as they could in the office. 

There are many tools available to firms that have collaboration and workflow built in, such as Caseware Cloud. This platform allows team members to collaborate on workpapers simultaneously from any location, while the technology automates tasks that tend to keep staff busy, but not productive. Workflow management fosters communication between colleagues and teams within a single system. 

Technology is not the only answer, but when we look at what employees want — more high-value time, better work-life balance, to be productive, and to feel cared about — we can see how quality technology can help. And as we look to what will appeal to future generations, they will no doubt expect technology and automation to be in place. It is time to revamp processes and technologies so the focus is on empowering and enabling today’s talent — and thus preventing a “Great Resignation” at your firm.

Samantha Mansfield is a Michigan-based consultant, public speaker, and founder of Samantha Mansfield LLC. She has been in the tax and accounting technology industry for over 20 years, consulting firms on implementation and business model transformation.

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