There is, to put it mildly, a lot of discontent swirling around on the UK employment scene. Regardless of the economic pressures that are affecting our lives, more than a third of the UK workforce are currently thinking about resigning. Meanwhile, 24% are in the process of leaving their jobs for better pay – and one in five have already left for new roles in the past 18 months.
These are the key findings of the 2022 International Workforce and Wellbeing Mindset Study, from wellbeing software company Alight. But it is when we examine the poll’s more detailed figures that the true depth of that discontent becomes clear.
Fewer than half (44%) of UK workers believe their company does well at communicating with them. More than half (54%) think their employers are too demanding. And, given a chance, almost a third (31%) would not say glowing things about their organisation.
On the wellbeing front, just 15% of US and UK employees reported that they were aware of employer-sponsored stress-management programmes. Of those who were aware, fewer than a quarter (23%) said they used those facilities – even though 32% wanted their employer to offer more mental health resources.
So, to what extent do those trends encompass the UK accounting profession?
“We are seeing recruitment trends mirroring what the study has highlighted,” says Joanne Howell, Accountancy and Finance Recruitment Manager at Cathedral Appointments. “The main reason why that’s the case is simply because there are more jobs than candidates. So, if a candidate is unhappy, they effectively have the pick of the field.”
“Many accountancy firms are just about functioning, but short-staffed – which means existing staff are extremely busy,” Howell adds. “That’s a workplace situation that could easily turn into unhappiness. And if staff are unhappy, they start thinking about leaving. Right now, that’s a viable option because there are so many different opportunities. So it doesn’t surprise me that the study flagged up such high numbers.”
Lee Owen, a Director of Hays specialising in accountancy and finance, is similarly unsurprised at the direction of travel. “Professionals in the sector certainly know their worth,” he says. “Earlier this year, we saw the ‘great reshuffle’, where more people than ever were moving from job to job. In early autumn, often a time for career reflection, we tend to see an increase in people looking to move, too – or at least contemplating if they are happy within their role.
“Given the widespread cost-of-living challenges, many professionals are aware that they can secure a significant rise by moving roles – giving them further motivation to make a career move,” Owen adds.
Path to progression
With the Bank of England predicting inflation to hit a record high by the end of the year and the cost-of-living squeeze tightening by the day, it is understandable that staff will be filing pay-rise requests, says Chris Goulding – Managing Director of accountancy and finance recruiters Wade Macdonald.
“However,” he notes, “businesses are facing costs too, and shouldn’t be seen as exempt from the pressure.”
In a poll of more than 1,000 finance and accountancy professionals, Goulding’s firm found that a third had not received a pay rise this year – and of those who had, almost 28% had received a rise of between just 1% and 3%. What does that mean for retention?
“Businesses should focus on training, learning and development opportunities and offering a clear path to progression,” he says. “Regular appraisals and reviews, along with supporting studies and qualifications, will hold weight and relevance beyond the recession – which is expected to be severe, but brief.”
“Demonstrating to staff that there are opportunities for progression – while providing transparency on exactly how they’ll progress – is really important,” Owen agrees. “Flexibility is also crucial. Employers that don’t offer hybrid-working options are at risk not only of losing staff, but failing to attract as many new hires.”
“Employees want to understand how they can grow alongside the business,” Howell adds. “If a clear, structured plan is provided, they’re far more likely to stay than if they have no firm idea of their career trajectory. Above all, they want to feel valued and nurtured.”
How important, then, are wellbeing initiatives for determining whether or not accountants will stick with their current employers?
While Owen cites wellbeing as “really important”, he points out that it won’t necessarily be the main reason why an employee chooses to stay. Nonetheless, he says: “It is something employers should prioritise to make staff feel valued. In many ways, COVID-19 has changed the conversation when it comes to mental health and wellbeing at work. Businesses are more supportive and inclusive environments for it.”
Howells notes: “I genuinely believe wellbeing programmes do make a difference to retention, but they are quite down the list in terms of priority. Employees will soon work out if a company is simply paying lip service to having a wellbeing programme, or if there are some worthwhile benefits in operation.
“If an accountant is in a job with an overall package that includes wellbeing measures, they will certainly expect a prospective new employer to offer the same, or better,” Howells adds. “In terms of getting an employee to stay or move on, access to a workplace counsellor once in a blue moon and the odd duvet day probably won’t cut it.”
Goulding says: “Very few employees will actually need, or make use of, employee assistance programmes and other wellbeing perks, such as gym memberships and charity days. But without them, firms are likely to lose staff. People like to have options – and while wellbeing programmes are expected from employers, they are not enough to be a deciding factor in keeping people from leaving.”
As the workforce becomes more diverse, Goulding notes, people will have increasingly different requirements. With that in mind, he adds: “Tailored perks can be the perfect solution. One person’s free parking is another’s gym membership.”
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