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Five ways to retain staff post pandemic

Although the accelerated move to digital transformation has created opportunities, the accountancy sector hasn’t remained unscathed by the pandemic’s economic impact. So, what can accountancy firms be doing to retain staff in the current climate? asks John Edwards, CEO of The Institute of Financial Accountants (IFA).

It was said in 2020 that like most other sectors, accountancy was likely to contract as a result of the pandemic. Even prior to Covid-19, accountancy firms struggled with hiring. Going into 2020, 46% of small, medium, and large firms said their biggest concern was recruitment and retention. Fast forward a mere few months and  recruitment challenges were set to reach unprecedented levels with skills shortages in the jobs market. 

As we emerge from the pandemic, the prospect of better days for now, at least, remains a pipedream. Fuel costs as well as commuting costs are continuing to rocket, as are energy bills and food prices. All are putting a real strain on finances. The general cost of living is simply not sustainable for a lot of people. Employees asking for a pay rise during these difficult times is perhaps not an unusual scenario, but it can be tricky for employers to offer a salary increase when businesses  are also feeling the pinch. This may force the talent pool of a business to seek jobs elsewhere. 

Here are five ways in which employers can help boost staff retention:

  • Adopt flexibility

As the impact of the pandemic continues to decline, recent research has found that half of UK workers are prepared to leave their roles in order to access hybrid working benefits. This is further supported by data showing that 41% of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within the next year. And another recent survey recorded that 9 in 10 feel that work/life balance is important to their happiness in a job.

Greater flexibility is therefore vital in the effort to re-engage and retain quality staff. For many people, especially post-Covid, a decent work/life balance is considered even more important than having a higher salary. Before the pandemic, there was a growing desire among employees for a more tangible purpose and value from their work and employer. It is now crucial for organisations to focus on their culture and employee wellbeing. They need to ensure that they are embracing the change in ways of working and are using the opportunity to adopt new, more flexible working practices for the longer term.

  • Invest in training

One area which is also deemed important, particularly by younger workers, is professional development and career opportunities. 35% of millennials cite ‘excellent training and development’ programmes as a key characteristic of an attractive employer, according to research.  

Furthermore, 22% ranked training and development as the topmost valuable benefit. Many of us wish to better ourselves and for some this could involve enrolment in a course to learn new skills or having the opportunity to try a different position within the same organisation.

By combining training with genuine development opportunities and a comprehensive career advancement framework, which incorporates both senior employees and new hires, firms can increase employee retention. Not only that, but it will help boost satisfaction and stimulate engagement among staff. In addition, investing time, effort and money in an employee shows that they are valued.

  • Remove monotony 

We are now in the era of tech and digitalisation. There is an expanding need for accountants to have an ever-growing skillset in data and technology. It’s about harnessing the opportunity that the digital world brings to cut down on repetitive so-called pen pushing and eliminate drudgery. It’s a waste of money and talent. Automating time-consuming, manual tasks means freeing up accounting staff to focus on more strategic work and become a more effective team. 

With increased automation, the finance function will have more time to focus on things such as capturing more timely payments and improved collection of other receivables such as deposits, structured payment arrangements, or any other items your business requires.

  • Rewards and recognition

A good way to attract and retain great employees is by offering competitive benefits and perk packages. After pay, robust benefits — especially health benefits — are routinely cited as the most important factor for employees – something that may be worth considering should pay rises not be feasible. If it is something already offered, why not focus on providing better benefits? Perks strengthen and reinforce company culture. An Australian survey revealed that only 45% of its citizens are satisfied with their jobs, but among those who like their benefits, that figure skyrocketed to 76%.

Making an employee feel appreciated often takes very little, but simply acknowledging their efforts and just saying thank you can be enough of a reward for your employees. An example is to set up a peer-to-peer recognition system where teams and managers can recognise as employee who has gone above and beyond.

  • Communicate better 

Staff burnout is the overriding reason why employees leave to seek greener pastures. This is also something which has been compounded due to the pandemic. Addressing employees directly will encourage more accounting talent to stay onboard.

Transparency also serves to boost communication. For instance, concealing the operations of the firm from staff, or not seeking their opinions on important firm issues only encourages alienation. One firm’s approach is to be transparent with staff on how much their partners earn, without mentioning names. Another found that by exercising such strategies as telling its staff how the firm operates and how it made money, led them to being more engaged and committed as they were able to see how their efforts contributed to firm profit. 

At the end of the day, the job market is highly competitive, with accountants able to consider their options to advance their careers. It’s a trend employers must recognise, in order to do everything they can to retain these individuals and increase company-wide performance.

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