Has the Great Resignation Altered Your Retention Plans Yet?

Jun 28, 2022

pa-cpa-journal-has-the-great-resignation-altered-your-retention-plans-yetAs the world health crisis started to unfold in 2020, financial service firms observed the growing desolation among our clients watchfully, like tourists eyeing a tsunami from the 12th floor of a beachfront hotel. The tide was rising to wash businesses away, and the casualties were significant. As part of the aftermath, the way people work has been transformed. In 2022, with clearer skies and receding flood waters, there is now a better view of what happened and what lies ahead. The economic storm, it seems, washed away a fair number of workers with the Great Resignation that followed the health crisis. Now employers are scrambling to evaluate their methods of recruitment and retention. 

Grocery stores and restaurants aren’t the only businesses impacted by the employee exodus. Client-support teams, such as investment advisers and consultants, are experiencing delays in providing information as they work on teams with reduced capacity. Even as some workers abandon the rat race or lean into their entrepreneurial instinct to go solo, those who did not plan to move on are being affected by the behavior of their peers. With so many suitors now out there, how can employees be convinced to focus their roving eyes?

Fidelity starts with trust, and trust is bolstered by fortifying personal connections. “People leave managers, not companies” is a popular maxim that warrants careful consideration by firms evaluating ways to retain employees. Sure, maybe the accounting industry is not a good fit for that employee who secretly daydreams of circus life, but outside of this type of circumstance most of the things that govern an employee’s experience are in the hands of leadership. Management decides the quantity of work that is accepted (thereby controlling employee burnout), as well as how, when, and where the work is done (company culture).

It has become even more difficult for firm leaders in an era of greatly increased remote work. Those outside the office are still relevant and should be made to feel that way. To forge a genuine connection with remote staff members requires creativity, but it is worth the effort. Value confirmation does not require physical presence, but regular contact is needed to establish the emotional piece that augments a desire to stay. Meet-ups should be encouraged but not forced (even tacitly). Employees can still plug into the company culture from remote connections.

Consider a guest instructor to make virtual happy hours even happier! Some companies are facilitating team cooking or cocktail events by hiring an online instructor and shipping kits to employees’ homes. For special events or commemorations, some firms are shipping party hats and streamers to employees to drape around their home office. If employees don’t want to cook, learn, or decorate, maybe they can be treated to a firm-sponsored local artist performing in a remote environment. For offices with dog lovers, a virtual dog park visit could be a great way for pet-people to connect and establish goodwill for the next time Fido interrupts an online meeting. 

Most ideas will work for a lot of team members, but not all. There will always be someone who doesn’t drink, barely eats, doesn’t party, hates music, or doesn’t have a dog. But something makes that person tick. This is why one-on-one check-ins are so important. Perhaps the answer is to offer more activities in smaller groups. By having open invitations and varying the activities you will greatly increase the odds of employee engagement. 

Engagement shouldn’t just be top-down. Establish a peer-to-peer acknowledgement program and incentivize participation. Not only do those programs strengthen the team, but they also exercise the kindness muscle, which seems to have suffered atrophy in so many. 

It’s common practice to hold exit interviews when someone leaves a firm; perhaps it should be just as common to have continuity interviews. Find out why the employees who are retained are staying. What do they like about the firm? What are their favorite kinds of projects?

The enticement to be an entrepreneur is strong among many CPAs. Perhaps task-based approaches should be replaced with a more project-ownership outlook, where employees are empowered to influence not only the quality of work but also the way the work is done. Empowered employees stay. This is particularly important in accounting, where the journey to the top can be long and arduous. While on this path, making employees a part of the decision-making process is critical to keeping them engaged. 

The competition for employees was already fierce prior to the Great Resignation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the number of available accounting jobs continues to trend upward. This means that CPAs – currently employed and those just entering the profession – can be very selective in their job hunt. Once considered trivial, features like “personal fulfillment” and “flexibility” are now bargaining chips and bona fide considerations in employee retention. 

Warming to the understanding of employee leverage may require some uncomfortable changes, some of which may be structural. But even after changes are incorporated, there will still be departures. For those who have found a home in a place that management has built with care, opportunities will open in the wake of those who leave and firms will better weather the turbulence of departures.  


Alyzabeth R. Smith, CPA, is a tax manager at Siegfried Advisory in Wilmington, Del., and a member of the Pennsylvania CPA Journal Editorial Board. She can be reached at alyzabeth_smith@msn.com.

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