[IMGCAP(1)]Every year Accounting Today publishes the results of their survey that identifies the “Best Firms to Work For.” Since I have been out of the daily management of an accounting firm for a few years, I was curious to learn what new and innovative policies the leading firms today are embracing that puts them in the rankings as a great place to work.

In order to do that, I reached out to a number of firms on the list and I asked them what they thought differentiated their policies from other firms.

Here are the policies I found innovative and interesting:

At Mueller Prost they encourage their professionals to commit to participating in some form of charitable service by paying them for two days per year to volunteer their time to the community. I was curious to know what percentage of the staff took advantage of this opportunity and was surprised to hear that the answer was more than 50 percent. When more than one half of the organization is engaged, that's a pretty strong commitment to community service! They also allow the staff to select the organization where they volunteer. What a great policy!

Along with community service outreach, Mueller Prost also offers a unique, multifaceted policy for flexible scheduling.

First of all, this means that staff can determine when they start and end their day. Secondly, they can take paid time off in hourly increments so no one has to use a half day or whole day if they need to be away from the office for just a few hours. Another example of flextime the “Mueller Prost way” is that each professional employee is responsible for maintaining a set standard of billable hours each month. If they have a really busy first two weeks (perhaps due to a filing deadline) and accumulate most of their hours for the month, they can enjoy some time off in the second two weeks of the month without having to use vacation or paid time off hours. Mueller Prost is not focused on when they work—what matters for tracking purposes is the total billable hours achieved by the end of the month and that the work gets done.

At PKF Texas, a major factor in their being included on this prestigious list is their philanthropic culture. At this firm, their professionals deeply appreciate being a part of a firm that adheres to philanthropic ideals. They also love that the firm gives them the opportunity to do good in the community. PKF Texas’s strong internal culture and impactful external outreach enables the staff the ability to easily make connections and become involved in programs that they are passionate about.

Other significant policies at PKF Texas:

• A CPA review program that includes financial assistance and paid time off to take the exam, and a bonus upon completion of the course.

At Wilkin & Guttenplan they are most proud of their:

• Totally flexible work environment, including optional Saturdays during tax season. The staff is not required to come in on Saturday and they don’t have to work on Saturday (or Sunday) as long as they get their hours in or work done during the week. The focus is on client delivery not on whether they are in or out of the office.

• Policy to close the office entirely on Fridays from July 4 through Labor Day weekend. Productivity does not take a hit from the four-day week. In fact, client work is completed more quickly than during a normal work week and the staff loves the flexibility.

After hearing what other firms are doing to be considered as a top firm to work for, this is a good time to ask yourself: Is our firm philanthropic enough? Are our management policies flexible enough?

These are the two themes that were consistent for all the firms I interviewed. In a way the results should not be surprising. The studies done about the millennials reinforce both concepts. First, young professionals truly care about others and are willing to commit to make an impact. Secondly, work life balance is a top priority which means they care much more deeply about schedule flexibility than prior generations.

If you really want to know if you measure up, just ask your staff. But do not be offended if they say you do not. Instead of being defensive, hear them out. Listen to their suggestions on how you can improve. Then, if you agree, you can commit to making changes.

Why Is This Important?
Your human resource policies matter because the current trend says staffing can be an even bigger challenge than business development and firm growth. If that’s true, you will need to commit to improving the job experience by creating a giving and flexible environment. Just remember that improvement can only be measured by the staff. After all, they spend about 50 to 60 percent of their nonsleeping life working. If they are making such a huge personal investment, don’t they deserve to work at “the best firms”?

I am warning all of you: Do not be surprised when young professionals leave your firm and flock to the best employers. If you want to avoid or mitigate the damage of this happening at your firm, I ask you to ask yourself one last time, “How do you stack up?”

Burt Bierman, CPA, is a senior consultant on niche growth at The Rainmaker Companies.

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