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Accountancy faces up to the Great Resignation

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 17 Nov 2021

With almost one in four workers actively planning to change employers within the next six months, the cumulative cost to business of the ‘Great Resignation’ could be huge. How serious is your business about hanging on to good staff?

It’s been dubbed the Great Resignation as almost one in four workers say they are actively planning to change employers within the next six months. Recruitment firm Randstad UK, which conducted the survey of 6,000 workers, said in a normal year it expected up to 11% of workers to move jobs every year. 

As workers re-evaluate what they want from their working lives, employers face the daunting prospect of huge churn, with significant financial implications. According to research carried out by Oxford Economics, a new professional worker takes 28 weeks to reach optimum productivity, with an attached cost of £25,200 per employee.

With 275,000 accountants in the UK, the cumulative cost to business could be huge. “If, in the next few months, even a sixth of them choose to act on their new-found belief in their career prospects and get a new job with a different employer - for better pay or conditions - that would cost firms more than a billion pounds in lost productivity alone,” warns Adrian Smith, senior director of operations at Randstad UK. 

It means the onus is on employers to pull out all the stops to ensure that their best people stay. In practical terms, that means getting under the skin of your workforce to understand the factors most important to them and making sure your business ticks enough boxes for them to stay put.

Are you serious about offering employees truly flexible or hybrid working?

Increasing flexibility and hybrid working is a top attraction tool. The pandemic has rewritten the traditional workplace contract, with employers and employees alike coming to terms with what the future of work will look like. “Many employers are asking us questions about how to develop a hybrid strategy which will resonate with prospective and current employees,” said Stephanie Rudbeck, a Senior Director at Willis Tower Watson. 

Are your ESG credentials up to scratch?

Employees increasingly consider the environmental impact of their employer’s business decisions and expect credible action plans. Half of UK employees said it is important to them that a company’s social and political values align with their own, finds an ESG Report by recruiter Robert Walters. “Both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have acted as “ESG accelerants” shining a brighter light on the “Social” element of ESG in particular, says Sinead Casey, Employment Partner at Linklaters. 

Do you really take diversity seriously?

Businesses with a genuinely diverse and inclusive culture will not only better reflect the expectations of clients but they are also more likely to attract and retain the best talent. Employees who feel that they're accepted and appreciated for who they are no matter what their gender, age or ethnic background are happier. And the happy staff are more productive and less likely to leave prematurely. “If staff feel there’s a meritocracy and the business is diverse, it’ll be a happier and more motivated environment, which in turn can contribute to positive business outcomes,” says Andy Rich, managing partner at accountancy firm HW Fisher

Are there genuine career opportunities for recruits?

A perceived lack of career opportunities in their current organisations is a key factor prompting employees to leave, according to a poll of 160 HR leaders by Willis Tower Watson. “Companies must create visible career opportunities to attract talented people, says Stephanie Rudbeck, a Senior Director at the firm. Having a clear and transparent career development and progression plan helps staff feel invested in. Gill Tallon, Deputy Managing Partner at Mercer & Hole, says people know where they are going in the firm and are offered support, training, and international opportunities. “People are not afraid to ask if they want to do something to progress their career. We have a very varied workload, which provides people with lots of different experience to learn new skills and to experience many different business sectors.” 

Do you practice what you preach?

Aligning corporate promises with the reality at the coalface has never been more important. Employers must live up to the promises they make. “In these uncertain times, it’s important to keep listening to employees, says John Bremen, Willis Towers Watson’s Global Head of Thought Leadership and Innovation. People’s needs have changed, as have demographics,” Bremen warns. “Don’t assume that what brought them to work before or during the pandemic will bring them to work after it.”

Do your salaries and benefits line up with your competitors in the market?

Three quarters of HR leaders polled by Willis Tower Watson said people are leaving their jobs because they can find better pay elsewhere, so make sure you are still paying as much as your peers. Consider other benefits that are appreciated by staff, says Thomas Dalby Head of Employer Solutions at Haines Watts. Offering a high-end mobile handset and contract is a tax-efficient benefit to both employees and employers assuming it adheres to certain rules. Meanwhile, a properly structured share plan should have both no immediate cash flow implications and act as a very effective pair of golden handcuffs. “If you are able to grant qualifying EMI options or use one of the other statutory tax-advantaged share schemes (TASS), you can provide your employees with very valuable rewards in a very cost-effective way,” Dalby says. 

Do you pay lip service to staff wellbeing?

The stressful experience of the past two years has left many employees feeling burned out. Employees need to be given the chance to unwind after a working day, especially as our work and home lives have blurred since widespread remote working became the norm. “Leaders need to encourage teams to take time away from their desks,” Tallon says. “We also support everyone with downtime so regular quizzes, drinks, socials which partners attend which makes them available and accessible to everyone to chat to.” 

Do you engender a sense of belonging even if staff aren’t physically in the office?

The explosion in home working means that the emotional ties to firms have become weaker. Therefore, it’s vital to keep everyone in touch and connected no matter where they’re working. For Mercer & Hole, that has translated to beefing up the content of its firmwide weekly updates. “Taking time to help develop friendships among a workforce which is now largely working remotely so would not build social cohesion naturally by creating connections through being in the same office,” Tallon adds.

How often do you say thank you?

No one likes to feel taken for granted and your staff are no exception. “The little things we do as a firm to say thank you are appreciated, for example we have a quarterly star award and the person nominated will receive £200 vouchers. This is aimed at thanking those people who go above and beyond in their duties,” Tallon says.

Do you have a positive culture that makes people want to stay?

Building a culture that is open and transparent means that people feel listened to and allows you to address issues early on before they become significant. Rich agrees that creating a fair culture that gives a voice to people at all levels in the organisation is a great weapon in your staff retention armoury. “Until our MBO in 2018, our firm was arguably seen as ‘male, pale and a bit stale’. We now have a new leadership team in place and are working hard to change things. It's important for employees in under-represented groups to know that their company is on their side. To be a true ally, you must be open to learning, comfortable with being uncomfortable, and recognise we all have an opportunity to do better.”

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