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How to attract and retain accountants: One critical trend to know

Posted 3 years ago in Advisors by Xero
Posted by Xero

This post was authored by Ryan Lazanis, CPA, CA. In 2013, Ryan founded Xen Accounting, a 100% cloud-based accounting firm. Following its acquisition in 2018, Ryan started Future Firm which provides resources and consulting to firms looking to setup an online, automated and modern firm of their own. In a multi-part series, “Power Up Your Future Firm,” Ryan will share advice and insight for how firms can leverage the latest technology and trends to propel you into the future.

Long story short, if you want to attract and retain accountants in this day and age, you need to give them 100% flexibility in where and when they perform their duties.

Let me take you through this.

Hard-wired for the digital on-demand world

We live in a world where the newer entrants in the workforce, millennials and Gen Z, are used to operating online and they are used to getting what they want, when they want it, with the click of a button.

Need to get somewhere? Push one button in your Uber app and a car arrives at your doorstep.

Need to buy groceries? Paper towels? A BBQ? With 3 clicks in Amazon, you can have whatever you want delivered to you in a day.

There are countless other examples of on-demand products and services available to users right at their fingertips.

No one knows and gets this more than millennials and Gen Z. They operate online, socialize online and pretty much live online. According to Pew Research in the US, they are also the largest segment of the workforce, which will only intensify in the years to come.

Due to this digital on-demand world that we live in, these generations are wired to think and act in a particular way, yet despite this, many accounting firms are still applying the same old tactics from the pre-internet days to attract and retain accountants.

Show up at the office. Start work when everyone else does. Put in your overtime. Rinse. Repeat. In 2019 and beyond, this will no longer fly.

Couple this lack of understanding about what makes these generations tick with the fact that recruitment and retention of staff is one of the top challenges facing accounting firms today and you have a recipe for disaster.

If you want to attract and retain accountants from the younger generations, it will take a shift in mindset and some newly implemented processes.

What’s important for millennials and Gen Z?

A few months back, I wrote about 3 takeaways from a recent Deloitte survey that outline areas of importance for millennials in their professional career. The survey questioned more than 10,000 millennials and more than 1,800 Gen Z.

According to the survey of what they looked for in a job, financial rewards and positive workplace culture top their wish list. But, coming in at #3 is flexibility — and more specifically, not being tied to strict hours or locations.

Years back, this concept would have been unheard of. Even when I was working my first accounting jobs, there was not even a debate around it. The fact that flexibility comes up so high on their wish list is truly telling and firms must not ignore this.

These generations also understand that technology allows them to have more control in how they run their lives and still get work done at the same level of quality as if it was being done in the office.

Easy to use technology has surrounded these generations for so long that they think that the on-demand way of doing things can extend to their professional life as well.

And with the rise of the gig economy where software companies like Uber allow people to find work whenever they want, I only expect this way of thinking to intensify and create even more challenges for employers.

Flexibility is the key to attract and retain accountants

Since we now understand the landscape that millennials and Gen Z have been brought up in and since we also have hard data that indicates their desires, it’s therefore critical to not ignore what these generations want: flexibility. And lots of it.

Give your employees the absolute choice over the hours they work and where they work from. All you need to do is measure them based on results. Nothing else matters.

And if you hire right, you know what the beautiful thing is? No one takes advantage. When you put your trust in your people, they can sense that and it becomes a motivating factor. It’s up to you to put the proper expectations in place and then hold them accountable.

If you provide flexibility, you’ll attract high quality candidates that are actively seeking this kind of environment and you’ll be able to more easily retain them as well. Most firms are warming up to this idea, but they’re not there yet which gives you a competitive advantage.

Three ways to start offering complete flexibility

There are a few things that you need to implement if you want to offer your employees absolute flexibility in where they perform their duties and the hours in which they do so.

1) Get the right technology in place

You cannot offer your employees absolute flexibility unless you have the right technology in place. For starters, you need the right communication and collaboration tools (I list my favorites here) that allow your team members to get client work done and interact properly with them from wherever they are in the world (with apps like Xero of course!). Running a cloud-based firm can see you and your team easily using 30+ apps.

2) Make sure you have a project management system

If you want to let your team work from wherever, whenever, you need a system to assign, manage and track the work that needs to get done. I’m amazed to see that many firms out there still don’t have an easy to use project management system for the whole team to collaborate in.

Personally, one of the most important things to track is whether work is going out the door when it’s supposed to. Depending on other important metrics for your firm, you’ll want to choose a project management system that can either generate these or that you have developed ulterior processes for doing so.

3) Tweak your processes to maintain culture

When you’re all in the office together, keeping culture together is easier. You have the water cooler talk, people’s birthdays to celebrate, etc. If you implement policies that give employees a ton more flexibility, then it’s possible you won’t see them in the office as much. Without any proper processes in place, the culture that you once had may slowly drift apart.

That’s why it’s important to implement processes that allow you and your team to get together and interact in ways that aren’t just work related. Where interactions in the office happen organically, when people are more dispersed geographically, there has to be a greater effort to round everyone up together and in order to accommodate that, a change in process is usually required.

Don’t wait

Finding and keeping good quality people is a major challenge for firms. Make it easier to attract and retain accountants by employing a trend that is popular among millennial and Gen Z generations: workplace flexibility. Giving them this perk is critical to keep yourself competitive and on the right side of change.

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