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Accounting firms have been fighting the war for talent so long that they have converged on a relatively uniform arsenal of benefits, policies and retention strategies to find and keep strong talent – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for individual practices to stand out.

A deep dive into data from the 2018 Best Firms to Work For identifies a short list of nine areas where the firms that made the list differ significantly from those that didn’t. While any one of them individually might not make the difference, each is a great way to make a firm stand out from the crowd.

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Tuition reimbursement/assistance for credentials
When it comes to career development, one of the most common forms it takes for accounting firms is in monetary support for extra credentials (most commonly assistance with the CPA Exam, but often extending to extra designations beyond that).

Almost all of the Best Firms (96 percent) offer reimbursement or assistance in gaining credentials – and that’s 10 percentage points ahead of the 86 percent of firms that didn’t make the list who help staff in this area.
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Formalized programs/practices for succession planning
Apart from the fact that firms need to prepare for their own future, they often don’t recognize how important it is for staff to know that plans are being made for the future leadership (particularly if they’re hoping to be part of that leadership).

Almost all the Best Firms (95 percent) recognize this and have plans in place to deal with succession planning, but only 68 percent of firms that didn’t make the list have formalized plans for it.
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Immediate families invited to events
Almost any accounting firm will boast that they treat their employees like family – but do they treat their employees’ families like family?

Among the Best Firms to Work For, fully 92 percent invite staff members’ immediate families to join in firm events – well above the 77 percent of firms that didn’t make the list.
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Personal development/stress management workshops, seminars or classes
The personal and career development of staff is a major concern for the Best Firms to Work For, and they spent a lot of effort helping employees be their best selves. And in many areas (particularly in technical education and career improvement), this is true of most firms in the profession – but not in this particular area.

When it comes to helping staff handle stress (like, say, the kind of stress that’s common during tax season…), the Best Firms are well out in front, with 70 percent of them bringing related classes directly into the office, versus only 57 percent of firms that didn’t make the list.
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Employee Assistance Programs
Sponsoring an employee assistance program to provide counseling for marital, parental or financial problems, or for help substance abuse or other addictions is a great way to demonstrate concern for the whole employee -- not just the worker who shows up from 9 to 5.

Over two-thirds of the 2018 Best Firms offer EAPs – but only 54 percent of firms that didn’t make the list do.
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Fully or partially paid parental leave for birth or adoption of a child
With a gap of 15 percentage points, this is tied for the third-biggest area of differentiation: Two-thirds of the Best Firms (63 percent) offer full or partially paid parental leave, versus less than half (48 percent) of firms that didn’t make the list.

And while it might be natural to wonder how much of this is due to the relative resources available to different size firms, the gap between small firms of both types is even larger: 55 of Best Firms in the Small Category (15-49 employees) offer support, against just a third (33 percent) of small firms that didn’t make the list.
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Financial education workshops, seminars or classes
As noted above, personal development of staff members is a major issue for the Best Firms to Work For, and being financially savvy is a natural concern for accountants, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that this was the second biggest area of differentiation. A full 58 percent of the Best Firms to Work For offer these kinds of classes to employees, 16 percentage points ahead of the 42 percent of non-listed firms that make them available.
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Facilities for promoting exercise and fitness
By and large, accounting firms are great about encouraging staff to get fit, with group activities, challenges, and support for gym memberships. But when it comes to on-site facilities, the Best Firms are ahead of the game: 57 percent of them help employees break a sweat in the office, versus only 45 percent of firms that didn’t make the list.

And again, while it’s natural to think this might be due to differences in resources between small and large firms, it’s worth noting that gap is even bigger among small firms: 47 percent of Best Firms in the Small Category (15-49 employees) offered on-site facilities, only 30 percent of non-list small firms do.
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Paying premiums for vision insurance
For most types of insurance, the difference between the Best Firms and those that didn’t make the list are very small – the distribution of types of coverage and how much of the premium each firm covers is roughly the same. Vision insurance is an unusual outlier among insurance and other benefits, with a 12-percentage point gap between the two groups: 31 percent of the Best Firms pay 100 percent of the premium, versus 19 percent of those that didn’t make the list.

The difference goes the other way, too, with half of firms (49 percent) that didn’t make the list paying less than 25 percent of of premiums, while only 39 percent of Best Firms contributed so little.