Boo-sting Retention: Unmasking the Spook-tacular Secrets to Keeping Top Talent at CPA Firms

As Halloween approaches, CPA firms will need to put more than a bowl of candy in front of their employees to be sure they retain them going into 2024. While the staffing shortage in the industry shouldn’t be news to anyone, now is not the time to let up on talking about the issue – both the causes and solutions. The Wall Street Journal’s recent article “Why No One’s Going Into Accounting” did a fantastic job of explaining the demise of the accounting profession’s attractiveness and serves as a backdrop for this blog about retaining staff.Halloweens work

Spook-tacular Secret #1 – Pay Your Staff Well

The article mentions how accounting salaries have failed to keep pace with other professions, especially with entry-level positions, specifically stating that “20-somethings’ accounting salaries have stayed at about $56,000 since the 2008 financial crisis.” Despite citing the cause as the supply of accounting students exceeding demand, thus causing firms to see no need to increase salaries, the supply has dried up over the last several years. Now, demand is higher than ever.  The industry can’t use over-supply as an excuse any longer and needs to take deliberate steps to increase starting salaries for entry-level accountants to attract and retain future talent.

Many of the firms I work with are small to mid-size, and when I talk about increasing wages their first protest concerns where the money will come from. They note that expenses for everything else are also on the rise, and the idea of spending any more money makes them cringe. My response is nothing groundbreaking – raise your fees and fire clients. With CPAs in short supply, clients are going to be hard-pressed to find another accountant to do their work, so start charging what you’re worth, and if clients aren’t willing to pay your rates, let them leave. Trickle these extra profits to your staff in the form of salary increases and/or additional bonuses.

Spook-tacular Secret #2 – Keep the Work Interesting

For many accounting students starting their first jobs out of college, the appeal of any task or project they get assigned is at an all-time high. Unless they’ve had prior experience during an internship or other job, they likely haven’t been tasked with the typical first-year asks like reconciling bank statements, saving client documents into folders, rolling over audit binders, etc. therefore they find them all incredibly exciting, at least initially.

While I agree that these things still need to be done, and rightfully by the professional with the cheapest bill rate, monotony can quickly lead to boredom. Retention and engagement go hand in hand, so if you’re not introducing new and exciting work to your staff regularly, you’ll likely find it challenging to keep them. Staff find it intriguing to be involved in things like sitting in on client meetings to observe how they are conducted and what types of questions get asked, or engaging in business development opportunities, whether listening in on sales calls or meeting prospective clients for coffee or lunch.

The new, expanded second edition of our book, CPA Firm Staff: Managing Your #1 Asset, addresses • talent management • retention • flexibility • importance of the boss • mentoring • leadership development • advancement • performance feedback • recruiting, and other issues.

Order your copy today!

Spook-tacular Secret #3 – Create and Foster a Recognition-Focused Culture

Culture is a nebulous concept, but when you work in or see a good one, you know it. Similarly, if you’ve ever worked in or seen a bad one, you also know it. Whenever I ask firm leaders to describe the culture at their firm, I often hear words like collaborative, flexible, fun, values-driven, inclusive, etc. Don’t get me wrong; all these characteristics are necessary to a great culture, but recognition is often missing from that list. Employee recognition makes staff feel appreciated and celebrated for their contributions to the overall success of your firm.

Gallup recently conducted a study* targeting the topic of employee recognition and how it benefits an organization. This study found that in organizations where employees noted receiving recognition or praise within the last week, their productivity improved by 9 percent.

The study also noted that employees are motivated by two primary factors: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic factors include a paycheck, whereas intrinsic ones focus more on the feelings or senses. Recognition for doing great work leads to employees feeling engaged at work, enjoying the work they are doing, and seeing the overall purpose of their commitment to your organization.

Making your culture more recognition-focused doesn’t need to be elaborate or expensive. Some easy ways to incorporate recognition at your firm could include:

  • Setting weekly calendar reminders to send a team member an email thanking them for their hard work
  • Starting a Teams or Slack channel for team members to give shoutouts to one another
  • Taking someone out for coffee or lunch
  • Sending your staff an appreciation gift after a big deadline or engagement to thank them for helping you get to the finish line.

Just as the upcoming October holiday inspires us to embrace the mysterious and magical, employee retention can be a captivating journey for any organization. As I’ve unraveled some secrets to keeping your staff under your spell, it’s evident that treating your employees well is like giving them the best candy in the trick-or-treat bag.

So, this Halloween season, let’s remember that while spooks and scares are fun for a night, a company that pays their employees well, provides exciting work opportunities, and recognizes their employees is the true treat that keeps them coming back, year after year. Just as we transform into our favorite characters on Halloween, you can transform your organization into a place where employees feel valued, appreciated, and enthusiastic about the future.

As the ghosts and goblins take center stage next week, may your firm’s commitment to employee retention take center stage year-round. By doing so, you’ll ensure that the only thing haunting your company is the ghostly echoes of success stories and the thrill of happy, long-term employees who’ve chosen to stay with you through all seasons.

Happy Halloween, and may your workplace be spooktacularly captivating for all!

*From Profits to Praise: The Business Case for Recognition at Work

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