Authors: Mark Gallegos, CPA, MST & Jackie Meyer, CPA | Editor: Brandon Lagarde, CPA, J.D., LL.M.
Public accounting has long been perceived as a demanding and high-stress profession, leading to challenges in attracting and retaining top talent. However, the future holds immense potential for transforming this perception and making public accounting a great place to work. By implementing effective processes and procedures, fostering a positive and uplifting outlook, and prioritizing employee well-being, tax practices and other public accounting firms can redefine their workplace culture and improve employee retention. This column explores various strategies to change the perception of public accounting and create a brighter future for the profession.
A thriving and enriching workplace for tax practices and other public accounting firms depends upon adopting the strategies discussed that can improve employee retention, inclusion, growth, and effectiveness.
Before embarking on the journey of change, it is crucial to grasp the current perception of public accounting. The profession is often associated with long hours, intense workloads, and limited work/life balance. Employees may feel undervalued, experience burnout, and perceive a lack of growth opportunities. By acknowledging these challenges, firms can proactively address them and pave the way for a positive transformation.
Perceptions shape reality, and public accounting is no exception. By working to change the perception of the profession, accounting firms can attract and retain top talent. Public accounting firms need to showcase the profession’s exciting and rewarding aspects, emphasizing the impact professionals can make, the opportunities for growth and advancement, and the variety of career paths available within the field.
However, it is important to note that perceptions can vary among individuals and organizations. Some may still hold on to the traditional perception of public accounting as a demanding profession, while others may have experienced positive changes in their work environment. Efforts to address employee retention and reshape the perception of public accounting are ongoing and require continuous commitment from firms to create an environment that fosters employee satisfaction, growth, and inclusion.
To change the perception of public accounting, a fundamental shift in mindset is required. Firms must cultivate a positive and uplifting outlook that promotes employee well-being, career growth, and work/life integration. Embracing a positive workplace culture starts from the top, with leaders setting the tone and demonstrating their commitment to a healthy and supportive environment.
The path to change is not always smooth, but the result is certainly worth the effort. Firms should consider using these processes and procedures to enhance and increase employee retention.
Workload management: Public accounting firms should adopt effective workload management processes to prevent burnout and ensure a healthy work/life balance. This includes optimizing resource allocation, setting realistic deadlines, and encouraging collaboration among teams. Leveraging technology to automate repetitive tasks can also alleviate workload pressures.
Career development and growth: Establishing structured career development programs is essential to retaining talent. Firms should provide comprehensive training, mentorship initiatives, and clear pathways for advancement. Offering opportunities for skill diversification and specialization can further enhance employee engagement and satisfaction.
Public accounting firms should prioritize providing opportunities for employees to enhance their skills and competencies. These can include technical training programs, workshops, seminars, and certifications that keep professionals updated on industry trends, regulations, and best practices. By investing in continuous learning, firms demonstrate their commitment to professional growth and provide employees with the tools they need to excel in their roles.
Innovation and technology integration: Embracing innovation and technology is crucial to modernizing public accounting firms. By automating repetitive tasks and adopting advanced analytics, firms can increase productivity, improve service delivery, and provide more strategic insights to clients. This not only elevates the profession but also makes the work more interesting and engaging for employees.
Trust-based systems and clear guidelines can ensure productivity while allowing employees to balance their personal and professional lives.
Structured career paths: Establishing structured career paths is also crucial in public accounting to enable employees to clearly understand the opportunities available to them. This can involve defining roles, responsibilities, and expectations at each level and outlining the skills and experience required for progression. Clear career paths allow employees to set goals, work toward advancement, and feel a sense of purpose and direction within the organization.
Collaboration and cross-training: Public accounting firms should foster a collaborative environment that encourages teamwork and cross-training. When firms provide opportunities to work on diverse projects with different teams, employees can broaden their skill sets, gain exposure to various clients and industries, and develop a well-rounded perspective. Collaboration also cultivates a sense of camaraderie, strengthens relationships, and promotes knowledge sharing.
Mentorship and coaching: Mentorship and coaching programs are powerful tools for career development and growth. Pairing experienced professionals with junior staff members allows for the transfer of knowledge, guidance, and advice. Mentors can provide insights into the industry, share their experiences, and help individuals navigate their careers. Regular feedback, coaching sessions, and constructive performance evaluations further contribute to employees’ professional growth.
Flexible work arrangements: Recognizing the importance of work/life integration, firms should implement flexible work arrangements such as remote work options, flexible hours, and compressed workweeks. Trust-based systems and clear guidelines can ensure productivity while allowing employees to balance their personal and professional lives.
The benefits of flexible work arrangements include:
Encouraging feedback and acting upon it demonstrates that employee voices are heard and valued.
Recognition and rewards: Recognizing and rewarding employees’ contributions is essential for retention. Establishing a formal recognition program that acknowledges outstanding performance and milestones can foster a sense of appreciation and motivate employees. This can include performance-based bonuses, public recognition, and opportunities for career advancement.
Transparent communication: Open and transparent communication channels foster trust, engagement, and a sense of belonging. Firms should communicate organizational updates, goals, and performance regularly. Encouraging feedback and acting upon it demonstrates that employee voices are heard and valued.
Financial wellness: In addition to physical and mental health, firms should focus on their employees’ financial wellness. By providing resources such as financial planning services, retirement planning sessions, and information on managing student loans, firms can support their employees’ overall financial health. This holistic approach to well-being demonstrates a firm’s commitment to its employees’ overall life satisfaction beyond just work.
Well-being initiatives: Prioritizing employee well-being is crucial for creating a great workplace. Firms should establish wellness programs, provide access to mental health resources, and promote work/life balance. Offering stress management workshops, promoting physical activity, and providing support during busy seasons can significantly improve employee morale.
Diversity and inclusion: Public accounting firms must embrace diversity and inclusion to create an enriching workplace. By fostering an environment that celebrates differences and ensures equal opportunities for all, firms can attract and retain diverse talent. Establishing employee resource groups, promoting training about unconscious bias, and implementing inclusive hiring practices can transform the workplace culture and improve employee satisfaction.
An inclusive culture: Foster a culture that values diversity and inclusion from the top down. Set a clear tone of inclusivity, establish diversity goals, and ensure that leadership exemplifies inclusive behaviors. Encourage open communication, provide diversity and inclusion training, and establish employee resource groups to create a sense of belonging and to encourage diverse voices to be heard.
Diverse recruitment and hiring practices: Implement inclusive recruitment strategies that attract a diverse pool of candidates. Use diverse sourcing channels, review job descriptions for bias, adopt blind résumé screening techniques, and ensure diverse interview panels. Incorporate behavioral-based interviews to assess candidates’ alignment with firm values and inclusive behaviors.
Career development and mentorship programs: Offer career development programs and mentorship opportunities to support the growth and advancement of all employees. Encourage diverse talent to pursue leadership roles, provide access to networking opportunities, and sponsor high-potential individuals from underrepresented groups to facilitate their professional growth.
Diverse client representation: Actively seek clients from diverse industries and backgrounds, ensuring that the firm’s client portfolio reflects the diverse marketplace. This not only demonstrates the firm’s commitment to diversity and inclusion but also provides opportunities for employees to gain exposure to different sectors and expand their skill sets.
Regular diversity and inclusion assessments: Conduct regular assessments to evaluate the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion initiatives within the firm. Collect feedback from employees, measure progress against diversity goals, and make necessary adjustments to policies and practices to foster continuous improvement.
Multicultural competency: In an increasingly global business environment, multicultural competency is key. Offer training to build awareness of different cultures, customs, and communication styles. This can help professionals interact effectively with diverse clients, colleagues, and industry partners.
To create a new reality for public accounting, firms need to embrace the changes and continuously evolve. Here are some examples of firms that have successfully transformed their workplace culture:
The future of public accounting holds immense promise for transforming the profession into a great place to work. By implementing effective processes and procedures, fostering a positive and uplifting outlook, and prioritizing employee well-being, firms can change the perception of public accounting. This positive shift will not only increase employee retention but also attract top talent seeking a fulfilling and rewarding career in accounting.
Embracing a culture of work/life balance, offering career development opportunities, ensuring transparent communication, and promoting diversity and inclusion will set the stage for a brighter future in the accounting industry. Through collective effort and commitment, public accounting can redefine itself as an industry that values its employees, fosters growth, and creates a thriving work environment for all.
Mark Gallegos, CPA, MST, is a tax partner with Porte Brown LLC in Elgin, Ill. Jackie Meyer, CPA, CCA, doctoral candidate (Twitter and LinkedIn: @jackiemeyercpa), is the founder and CEO of TaxPlanIQ and Concierge Accountant Coaching in Southlake, Texas. Brandon Lagarde, CPA, J.D., LL.M., is a partner with EisnerAmper in Baton Rouge, La. Gallegos and Meyer are members, and Lagarde is chair, of the AICPA Tax Practice Management Committee. For more information about this column, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get in touch today and find out how we can help you meet your objectives.