Retaining talent during disrupted times

The key takeaways from this session


ACCA Practice Room: Top tips for retaining staff during difficult times

This is a Summary of an ACCA Practice Room session, hosted by Heather Smith, Bright Amisi, and Robert Belle. Our hosts share with us their experience on retaining talent during disrupted times.

It’s not just small practices that are finding it hard to recruit and hold onto good staff at the moment. Upwards pressure on pay, high rates of employment, inflation, and the ‘Great Resignation’ during the pandemic have all combined to put pressure on businesses across the spectrum. So what can small practices do to compete with big accounting firms - and even with other types of job that might attract their staff?

Work life balance - plan carefully

Covid drew work/life balance to the attention of many employees. Some found that their roles were simply unsustainable in the face of other demands on their lives, while others found that remote working and sometimes flexible working made things much easier. Small firms should offer as good a work/life balance as practicable. They should consider whether offering hybrid work (some time in the office and some at home) suits their team and their clients. And they should make sure that they have the cloud technology to support this. Additionally, ensuring that performance metrics and measurement don’t penalise those who are working remotely is essential if you want to avoid a culture of presenteeism. And be aware that some markets are recovering quicker than others, so to avoid a brain drain, you’ll need to be aware of local pressures and try to make offers that keep those people affected by them on board.

Training - think beyond the obvious

Working remotely became the norm for many accountants during the pandemic. It may be appealing to many with children and plenty of workplace experience. But for the younger generation it can be damaging. If you are asking or allowing younger employees to work from home, make sure you have the right kind of training in place. Do they know when to ask for help? Could you buddy them up with someone more experienced with whom they can develop a rapport and of whom they can ask questions? And could you ensure that there are plenty of social events - either online or off, or both - to help them mix and connect? Isolating younger people at home at a critical stage of their career is a near-guaranteed way to lose them, especially as the world opens back up after the pandemic.

Emphasise the positives

Small practices have plenty to offer. Those looking to retain staff should regularly emphasise what they’re good at. In many cases, small practices allow younger staff to have greater responsibility earlier, and automation means that they’re having to do fewer mundane tasks - that’s a big positive. Smaller practices are often better connected to their community and we know that a better sense of purpose is something that makes people stay put. But equally, an accounting qualification is a global passport - so emphasising secondment opportunities in different locations may encourage some staff to stick with you. It’s also easier to showcase leadership in small practices - so if you’re a leader, make sure that you’re highly visible. It will go down well.

Communicate - find out what people want

Never being asked questions about what they actually want is a big reason for people upping sticks and leaving firms. Small practices have a powerful advantage here - they can actually speak to staff individually and respond individually to their concerns. For example, have you asked whether someone wants to work from home - or just told them they’re doing it? Some younger people in house shares without dedicated study space might want to come into the office. And some parents might really want the separation between work and home. Have you considered asking people about what locations and hours suit them and checked whether blended benefits such as lower salaries but more flexibility might go down well? And have you even done the simple things, like make sure people know how to sign off when they’re no longer available for work? Communication is key and small practices can do a really good job of it.

Remember, everyone is having trouble retaining staff at the moment - not just you. But if you’re inquisitive, fair, and flexible you’re likely to hold on to your team.

Some useful links:

ACCA CA ANZ sustainability playbook

Want your work-life balance back? Try these apps

Key takeaways from our Practice Room session on attracting talent for future success