A look at the many factors which come into play for practices who consistently retain their employees.
In part 1 of this article, successful ACCA practitioners spoke about the different ways they recruit staff.
Now, part 2 looks at four different aspects to retaining that great team member who you’ve worked so hard to recruit. This article is aimed primarily at retaining talent under the age of 30 but would be relevant to the retention of any staff member.
This is an obvious – perhaps mandatory – retention tool these days. Employees expect a work life balance and expect to be trusted to manage their time while getting their work done. Some flexibility with start and finish times is the absolute minimum – and the option to work from home occasionally will be very attractive – but take it further and it will be one of the strongest retention tools.
At the beginning of 2019, Norfolk-based Farnell Clarke implemented a new way of flexible work that focused on output of work rather than input of time. Their team members can work six-hour days, with total flexibility of when, where and how they work. Team members also have unlimited holiday but are expected to provide an exceptional level of service to clients. The thinking behind this ethos is that this will give team members the work life balance they need to be more productive and efficient when their mind and body are in work mode.
Farnell Clarke founder Will Farnell explains further: ‘With millennials making up over 50% of our workforce, and a further 17% of the team belonging to Generation Z, we’re keen to further develop our attractive modern workplace for today’s generation. Our aim as always is to continue to attract the best staff, and of course retain our fantastic team. This change has been two years in the making so it’s not something we’ve taken on lightly, but we’re really excited to offer this to our team. We are confident that we have the right people, processes and technology in place to make this a success for both our staff and our clients.’
Farnell Clarke also has an office pub that opens every Friday from 4pm but that’s another article for another day.
Long before Farnell Clarke took the flexible working concept to the extreme, Gateshead-based McCready Page decided to do away with timesheets and introduced a system of flexi time in 2003. There are some ground rules by necessity and team members still need to keep track of their hours but they can work any time they want – evenings and weekends included.
According to partner Rob Page, this was a game changer for the practice. ‘In reality, most people’s lives outside of work align with the standard working day anyway so team members tend to keep similar hours and it does not cause issues for the practice. It takes the pressure off lateness because you can’t be late! The option to be able to accrue some hours to use when you need time off for something personal is a great retention tool.’
A positive workplace culture
A practice’s culture is the environment that surrounds every team member all the time. It embodies the values, beliefs, leadership and attitude of the practice. Without a positive workplace culture, you cannot hope to retain team members for long.
However, an open and honest culture will reap retention benefits and enhance your reputation in the recruitment world. Being a flexible fair boss is particularly important in a small practice and could give you an edge over larger practices.
Many ACCA practitioners have mentioned that a positive enjoyable atmosphere in the office helps with retention. Some had worked in practices that were ruled by fear when they were juniors and those experiences meant they wanted something different when they became partners.
Not only will an open and honest environment help with retention, it can also mean that team members are more likely to come clean if a mistake has been made rather than trying to bury it.
Michaela Johns – an ACCA partner in Southampton-based HWB Accountants – found another beneficial side effect of their positive workplace environment. ‘A team member wanted to make the move to industry and gave us plenty of notice which allowed us to make plans for recruiting a replacement. We then helped place the staff member with a client which was a win-win for everybody – we developed a stronger connection with the client and the client got a great staff member. And it was all possible because our culture encourages openness.’
Giving responsibility early on – done carefully so as not to impact on the client relationship – will help team members feel valued. It will give them a greater sense of ownership and a development path that they can understand and work towards. A client portfolio of different sectors and different sizes will also give team members the variety to develop them and keep them interested.
Even trainees can be given their own small portfolio of clients (for bookkeeping, accounts & payroll) which would make them feel valued even though they would still have to be supervised by a manager.
Matthew Taylor – a partner in Manchester-based James Scott – sees the benefits of apprenticeships in that vein. ‘With cloud accounting, apprentices can be developed to do everything for one client – rather than several staff all doing different aspects of accounts, management accounts and corporation tax for the same client.’
Many team members will enjoy speaking to clients and feeling that they are making a contribution rather than just putting together a set of accounts. Taking team members along to client visits can help them to appreciate their role within the practice and develop that sense of buy-in.
ACCA partner Viraj Mehta at London-based accountants Bourner Bullock has found a particularly enjoyable way to bring team members and clients together. Every quarter they have a social event that brings the team together with clients and other professionals such as lawyers.
‘Clients like meeting the team and team members feel part of the bigger picture. We also have team-only social events and our tradition of going for a pub lunch every Friday is much loved.’
It is part of a proactive approach to retention that the practice invests in.
There is no avoiding the issue of salary when it comes to retention. This will vary from practice to practice with too many variables to take into account. Geography will make a difference – in central London, bonuses and salary increases will have to be made with each exam that a team member passes because that is the widespread practice across firms in central London.
Find out what is expected in your neck of the woods – consider using any local recruitment agency contacts you have to advise you on the current market rate. If you ensure that you pay the going rate then at least your team members will not leave for monetary reasons.
Pat Delbridge – member engagement manager, ACCA UK