[IMGCAP(1)]Accounting firms love to talk about work-life balance. Leaders of accounting firms are consistently pitching their firm as the leader in work-life balance.

Phrases such as “we respect our people,” “we treat our employees like family,” “we give generous time-off benefits,” and “we let you choose your schedule” are thrown around to everybody and anybody who is interested in potential employment!

At the end of the day, does the employee feel respected? Does the employee want to be treated like family? Can the employee actually take time off without having to work significant hours later? In many cases, the answer is no. And with that answer, there goes your trained employee, your trusted staff and your firm’s productivity for the next year.

Recruiters will woo CPAs from one firm to another based on the expectation of a reduced workload, more vacation, and a culture that is caring (not to mention, a raise is incumbent in the move). Employees eat up these dreams of being comfortable, relaxed, having time to go on vacation and most of all being able to unwind on that vacation. So the recruiter gets a commission, the employee gets three months until they realize that their new firm is the same as their last firm, and the firm gets somebody who will be disgruntled again in just a couple months.

Is the recruiter at fault? Are the firms at fault? Is the employee at fault? All of the above. Rather than thinking in terms of work-life balance, it’s time to focus on priorities. For this purpose, we will focus on the employee’s and the firm’s priorities. Because in the end, if the firm and employee meet their priorities, the recruiter is out of a job!

When I played high school basketball, my basketball coach always preached the following priorities: 1. God; 2. Family; 3. School; 4. Basketball. This meant that any family issue or any personal issue came before "work," no questions asked. The key to facilitating this priority is that my employer—the basketball coach, in this scenario—respected those boundaries. He understood where basketball fell on the priority list. He motivated the team members to step up for one another. He created a unity of brotherhood that allowed for individuals to collaborate as a team to meet the team’s goal, whatever the obstacle. In a gentle manner, he expressed that every individual is expendable, as the team did not rely on the abilities of one person.

In order to facilitate the priority focus in an accounting firm, the following responsibilities should be reviewed, discussed, and built into the firm’s culture.

The Firm’s Responsibility – For the firm to succeed, it should follow these steps (in this order):

1. Develop a priority list and build it into your firm’s value system.

2. Cultivate a team approach, so that each team member has support in their absence.

3. Communicate these priorities and ensure before hiring a new employee that these priorities meet the priorities of the new employee.

4. Live by the aforementioned items; don’t let pressure allow you to turn against your value system.

The Employee’s Responsibility – For employees to ensure an optimum level of productivity, they should follow these steps:

1.Advise your firm of your priorities—ensure that these priorities agree with those of the firm.

2. Trust your team—support them, as you would expect them to support you.

3. Communicate clearly with your team so that they have the maximum amount of time needed to prepare for your unavailability.

4. Live by the aforementioned items; ensure that you are happy. There is no time in life to be unhappy.

The results – Imagine what the result would look like if this concept was applied to accounting firms and their employees:

1. Employees would understand their roles. The accounting firm would meet their clients’ and personnel’s expectations.

2. Employees would find a balance in their life based on their individual priorities. Employers would build a team that rallies around the business’s priorities.

3. Employees would be happier and more likely to remain at their current firm for a longer period. Employers would reduce turnover and have improved reliability and efficiency for their clients.

4. Employees would be meeting their life priorities and employers would not have to worry about what the true meaning of work-life balance is.

This can all be accomplished by ensuring that open communication between the employee and the firm is available and encouraged. Without this communication, you should expect your firm to continue to rotate in and out disgruntled employees who don’t meet your clients’ needs.

Adam Blitz, CPA, is a manager at Wiebe Hinton Hambalek LLP in Fresno, Calif.