Much has been written about employee retention at public accounting firms. Employee connectivity to the business, or “employee engagement,” is a key factor in employee retention and firm growth.
Public accounting firms have come a long way and are certainly making strides to improve the work-life atmosphere at their firms and encourage employees to pursue a lifelong career in public accounting. Nevertheless, we continue to hear from employees about their lack of engagement and interaction with partners and the business as a whole.
A recent study by the ADP Research Institute found workers blame a lack of communication for feeling disconnected. Forbes noted the study revealed that “employers wrongly believe that exciting perks like free on-site health and fitness benefits can overcome other workplace flaws.”
Improving communication within the firm is paramount in improving employee engagement and ultimately retention. We hear over and over again that the younger generation insists on transparency and better employee engagement. This should not be ignored. Nevertheless, many public accounting firms struggle with this somewhat elusive concept and have not identified a solution or know where to begin. To complicate the matter, so much communication is occurring online today that we miss out on the human element that keeps us connected and engaged at work.
Here’s one simple step for firms that do not know where to begin. Hold Monday morning meetings, an old tradition that should be revived. I can recall early in my career there were regular Monday morning staff meetings where the partner or supervisor would briefly discuss the state of the business, the tasks for the week, personnel updates, a brief presentation of a technical issue, and an open floor for discussion. The meeting would last no longer than an hour or two. It set the tone for the week’s work and offered a feeling of team spirit and belonging. The regular meetings were a terrific way to connect with employees.
Many of the larger firms hold regular departmental meetings and do a good job of bringing the team together. I find that the midsize to smaller firms have a more difficult time organizing “all hands” meetings and have challenges sparing valuable billable hours. Firms that conduct in-house CPE may want to consider adding a “Monday Morning Meeting” to the CPE if scheduling time for a separate meeting is difficult.
Communication by email and the ever-increasing demand for more rapid reply times exacerbate the lack of real human connection. In my view, regular face-to-face meetings, which can also be accomplished through video technology for satellite offices, provide the best means for continuous communication and connection between management and staff.
The meetings really could be any day of the week and not necessarily every week. Early Monday morning seems ideal because it is the start of the work week and may not interfere with lunch plans or other client meetings. The meetings should be mandatory; those who cannot physically attend should have access to a dial-in number or a live video. However physical attendance is the most effective.
A typical meeting can include:
• A “state of the practice” by the managing partner that would highlight new clients, additions to personnel, promotions and possible financial highlights of the firm.
• A director or manager can discuss the status of major works-in-progress, new work to be scheduled and staff deployment.
• Technological developments and new IT requirements.
• Interesting issues encountered.
• A member of management or staff can present a technical topic for discussion that can qualify for CPE.
• Open discussion for staff and management to air concerns or raise issues.
There is no question that today’s employees are seeking greater connectivity with their employer. Public accounting firms are no exception, and in fact, probably are in greater need of improvement in this area. If employees are a firm’s greatest assets, we need to ensure we are protecting and retaining those assets. Greater connectivity, communication and employee engagement are important steps in that direction. The “Monday morning meeting” concept can be a good start.