In the accounting industry’s current labor market, investing in employee experience is crucial to sustaining your firm’s success. To retain top performers, attract up-and-coming talent, and motivate everyone in your firm, it’s vital to foster a positive culture.
There are all kinds of steps firms can take to boost morale among their employees. Some are fairly simple: pay them more money. Others are much more nuanced: outlining a hybrid work policy that keeps everyone happy. But often, firms overlook some of the more intangible elements of working at your firm – elements that contribute significantly to employee experience.
What exactly are these intangible elements that have such an important effect on your firm’s culture, why are they so important, and how can your firm improve on them? In this overview, we unpack those questions and more, helping firms to build a winning talent retention, attraction, and win-back strategy that lays the foundation for long-term success.
What Do We Mean by Employee Experience?
To the vast majority of the accounting profession, the job is more than just a paycheck. Accountants help individuals and businesses prosper by serving as trusted advisors on all kinds of important financial issues. Along the way, accountants get to experience all kinds of different industries, meet a variety of interesting people, and work on a wide range of projects. This alone makes the employee experience an interesting one.
But employee experience is about more than just the work your team performs. According to Gartner, employee experience is defined as what your employees feel and think about working at your firm. It’s central to whether employees choose to stay with your firm, leave for a competitor, or even drop out of the industry entirely.
There are countless components to employee experience including compensation, workload, culture, career growth, and so on. Investing in each of these areas to create an experience your people love elevates your firm, helping distinguish you as a top employer in the industry.
The Value of Investing in Employee Experience
Fundamentally, all professionals want to work at a firm where they feel valued. The firms that deliver the best employee experience will attract the most accomplished professionals. And over time, the firm with the most talented professionals will invariably be successful.
This, in a nutshell, is the value of investing in employee experience. If you want to attract A-Players to your firm, you need to provide them with a first-class environment in which they have the tools to excel.
In the accounting industry, your people are your product. When you foster a better employee experience, you’re not just making your employees happier: you’re investing in client satisfaction too. Motivated, engaged employees produce better results for your clients, which directly translates into better results for your firm.
No matter how great an employee experience you provide, some employees will leave. They may want to try out a new industry, move closer to family, or just be ready for a new challenge. Often, though, they’ll discover that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. If you provided a great employee experience, you stand to benefit from boomerang opportunities: high-performing employees returning to your firm after leaving.
7 Tangible Ways to Invest in Employee Experience
It’s clear investing in employee experience is a meaningful way to drive differentiation in this tight talent market. But perhaps what’s less clear is the exact steps firm leaders should be taking to create a higher standard of employee experience.
Here are several steps accounting firms can take to invest in employee experience:
- Public Recognition: if an employee has done a great job, don’t just praise them in private, call out their achievements to their colleagues too. Tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams make this easy, or take things to the next level using a tool like Kudoboard.
- Provide Career Growth Opportunities: it’s likely your employees have ambitions of becoming a partner one day. To lay the groundwork for the firm’s future success, leaders must invest in professional development activities for these employees. This includes conferences, events, bootcamps, internal training, and encouragement for associates to get involved in certain industry verticals. Employees should see a clearly-defined career path and the support of career coaches and mentors that help them understand the skills they have to develop to progress to the next level.
- Offer a Strong Benefits Package: While working for your firm is more than a paycheck for your employees, that doesn’t mean the number on the paycheck isn’t important. Make sure your employees are fairly compensated in line with their market value and provide strong health insurance and retirement plans.
- Invest in the Onboarding Experience: the onboarding process for new employees sets the tone for what’s to come. A well-thought-out onboarding process equips new employees with the tools they need to be successful right away, forming a strong first impression.
- Build a Candid Culture: everyone should have a say in the direction of your firm – not just partners. Different groups of employees have varying needs and preferences and it’s important that non-partner employees feel comfortable sharing their opinion with the leaders of the firm. Here are some simple ways for leaders to hear the voices of their employees:
- 360 reviews
- Town Halls with Q&A
- Employee Surveys
- Encouraging partners to find ways to make employees feel heard
- Regular partner meetings with their reports
- Measure Employee Satisfaction: by regularly monitoring employee satisfaction and other metrics, firms can understand how their employees feel about employee experience. With these insights, firms can pursue strategies that improve this, ultimately leading to improvements in retention, hiring, and business performance. Some outsourced survey providers offer surveys that noy only gauge how your employees are feeling, but also enter your firm into the running to win an award for being a top employer – potentially helping you attract even stronger talent.
- Busy Season Stress Busters: every accounting firm knows that the end of busy season typically means a period of high turnover. Consider tactics to mitigate the stress of tax season, and get creative. Potential ideas include chair massages, lunches and dinners, an office barista, office Olympics, happy hours, and more.
As a cultural issue, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to building a winning employee experience. Every firm is different and it’s important to liaise closely with your employees to determine the strategies that represent the best fit for your firm. Listening is vital: if you don’t listen to your firm’s professionals, you won’t understand what’s important to them or be able to make meaningful change.
Many firms find it useful to form committees composed of employees from multiple levels of the firm to work together on employee experience initiatives. This ensures a diversity of voices is represented and enables firms to work toward a culture and employee experience that works well for everyone.
Reshape Your Firm’s Strategy with Winding River Consulting
An investment in employee experience at your firm pays dividends in multiple ways. Not only will you decrease employee turnover, but you’ll also attract a higher caliber of new employees. In addition to that, your firm will also be able to capture boomerang opportunities and rehire former employees who realized after leaving that your firm was the best fit for them. Your firm’s ability to do that is only strengthened if you invest in basic boomerang marketing follow-up techniques such as an alumni newsletter.
Employee experience, while important, is just one component of a wider strategic vision for your firm. At Winding River Consulting, we help firms imagine, design, and achieve that vision through a range of advisory services and professional education programs tailored to the needs of modern accounting firms.
To learn more about how we can support your firm in achieving its strategic goals, contact us today.