As we enter yet another new year, those looking to work their way up in their careers will often focus on a specific question: “What does my boss want from me?” Similarly, employers looking to keep staff engaged and happy are wondering, “What do they want from us? How do we keep them happy and productive?”

Unfortunately, these questions can often go unspoken, and starting a conversation concerning the boss/employee dynamic can take a while to achieve. But they’re well worth asking so that employers and employees can be on the same page, focusing on a tangible goal. If you know what each person in your office wants, then you know what each of you can achieve by the time the next New Year rolls around.



Whether a professional is brand-new to a firm straight out of the collegiate hallways or in the prime of their career, it will not always be easy to communicate what one wants in the workplace. While one’s current work and projects are going to come first and foremost, secondary needs — such as planning out long-term career goals, the flexibility of work/life balance, and constant, productive communication to one’s higher-ups — often loom in the mental background and may never be properly addressed.

Those lists of demands, though, are often pragmatic, vital things for a long and fruitful career, and the faster those needs are addressed, the faster an employee can start providing exemplary results.

“[Professionals] most want an opportunity to learn and grow, to respect and trust their leaders,” said Jennifer Wilson, co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching, a national leadership and marketing consulting firm. Wilson also points to granting staff the necessary “flexibility in the way they work,” providing the appropriate work/life balance in a firm, which gives way to staff having quicker access to “the freedom to innovate and the ability to make a difference.”

It’s becoming more and more apparent that employees desire more than just adequate compensation when they’re joining the workforce. In fact, non-monetary factors are statistically more significant.

Jeff Phillips, chief executive officer and co-founder of Accountingfly, an accounting job board and recruiting network, offers the following on a professional’s needs in the workplace: “Accountingfly asked students and young CPAs what was the most important factor in selecting an employer — 59 percent said work/life balance, and 31 percent picked the ‘mission, vision and culture’ of the firm,” said Phillips. “Compensation was a distant third place, at 9 percent. Millennial CPAs get that they must work very hard to make a contribution in a firm, but they will select employers that offer more flexible arrangements and employers that have strong cultures. I hope this serves as a wake-up call to firm leaders who are waiting for this to just go away.”



Similarly, firm leaders often need certain things from their staff that go beyond the current project or client. The desire for non-technical, “soft skills” can be silently expected — whether it’s during the hiring process or during a professional’s overall tenure at the firm — but according to our experts, they’re just as important as any financial objective.

“Employers most want engagement, loyalty, innovation, efficiency and productivity,” added Wilson. “I would most like to see employers seek more input from [staff] and share more transparently the market challenges and business model issues so [professionals] can meaningfully engage in the development and implementation of solutions.”

Tim Gearty, editor-in-chief of Becker Professional Education — which offers educational resources for those in accounting, finance and more — suggested seven differentiating competencies that distinguish outstanding performers: “Conceptual thinking; self-confidence; directiveness, assertiveness, [and] use of positional power; impact and influence; professional aspirations; commitment; [and] appropriate concern for order, quality and accuracy.”

Additionally, Gearty pointed to five “threshold competencies” that employers look for in a prospective hire to demonstrate “at least average-level capability” — “achievement orientation; customer service orientation; flexibility; team work and cooperation; and developing others.”

After the hire, having the proper channel to communicate from the top brass to the staff might seem difficult or too cumbersome to set up, but there are some pragmatic solutions that a workplace can develop in order to have a vital flow of communication.

“Employers can communicate their needs in a variety of ways,” urged Wilson. “Having an advisory board is one of the first places I’d start, with two-way dialogue around ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ issues. Including [staff] in strategic planning and visioning processes will also uncover this feedback. Employers should share more, be more transparent about their business model and challenges, and allow [professionals] to truly participate in developing solutions that work for both the employer and employee.”

“One of the top areas for staff growth is building skills around prospecting and business development,” advised Phillips. “Progressive firms are equipping high performers by training them with business development skills to bring in new business and increasing their prospects of reaching partner faster.”

With the profession as a whole struggling to recruit and retain qualified staff, one way for firms to stand out in a positive way is to demonstrate a willingness to have an open discussion with staff concerning their professional desires. Creating transparency around what employers and their staff want from each other is an all-too-often untapped benefit, and simply moving towards a place of communication will undoubtedly progress your firm further.

Concluded Phillips: “We all want to see more CPAs stay in public accounting. Understand what may be driving your high performers away from your firm, or from public accounting in general, and do something about it.” 

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