ICAEW.com works better with JavaScript enabled.

Recruiting and retaining talent in a volatile market

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 14 Oct 2022

If businesses want to bypass the inflation-busting salary hikes to attract top accountant talent, they need to offer more flexible working arrangements, warns the director of specialist recruiter.

Talent-hungry organisations are being warned that a one-size-fits-all approach to recruitment and retention is flawed. Instead, meeting the specific needs of employees at different life stages is the key to success. At the same time, the need for increased flexibility is rising up the list of employee requirements, with four-day weeks, sabbaticals, career breaks and parental leave increasingly on the list of demands to retain good staff.

Stephen Howes, a regional director at specialist recruiter Michael Page, says frenetic recruitment activity shows no sign of abating and organisations are having to pull out the stops to attract and retain the best accountancy talent. The warning comes as a national survey from Appreciate Business Services suggests that eight out of 10 people in work are looking for a new job because they feel undervalued by their bosses, and one in three UK workers feel undervalued. 

Howes says salaries are up around 15% on this time last year as demand for the most sought-after candidates – typically those with between three and five years post-qualification experience – continues to outstrip supply. “Clients are saying they have no plans to scale back from their hiring plans, partly because they've been under-resourced over the last 12 months and have struggled to attract talent. The great resignation has hit an awful lot of organisations. I don’t see it becoming a buyers’ market any time soon.

“It's about understanding what each individual wants and being able to offer people choice while fitting within a framework that works for the business as well,” Howes explains. Having the flexibility to tweak that proposition to cater to staff at different stages of their life will help you hang on to them, he adds: ”Early on in their career it may be more about the ability to develop skills and accelerate their earning potentials, whereas later on it may be that increased flexibility to balance work with family or caring responsibility is more important. 

“Employees increasingly want to be able to continue on a career journey with an existing employer but feel as if they create the career break before they go on again. The savvy employers are the people who are creating these opportunities. The companies that are doing well from a recruitment and a retention perspective are very much looking at the individual as opposed to the employee,” Howes says.

But it would be absolutely wrong to say that if you fix flexibility, everything else will be OK, Howes warns: “You need a very clear employer value proposition on myriad fronts, including DE&I [diversity, equity and inclusion] and your commitment to ESG [environmental, social and governance].”

Howes says that despite rumblings of recession, the talent market is as hot as ever. “If you don't create a business that is able to offer people those choices, you reduce the talent pool from which you can look to attract talent, because you're competing against employers who can,” he warns. 

For those organisations that can't afford to match inflation-busting salary hikes, tailoring your proposition to meet candidates’ specific requirements can help give you the edge, he says. “For example, there is a growing number of small businesses paying less than the average salary but offering a four-day week.” 

He also stresses the importance of formalising any flexibility offered to staff: “There are lots of businesses that have informal arrangements in place, which leads to concerns that arrangements can get overturned if line managers leave. It's about having established policies.”

Quite often appraisals can focus on the granular detail about specific tasks and performance. “Our recommendation would be that a career conversation about the key values and key drivers that matter to you as an individual should be a separate conversation, totally removed from the conversation that you might be having about goals and objectives for the coming six to 12 months.”

For more on this subject, book your place to join our expert panel to discuss the future of work – skills, retention and recruitment on 19 October.

Discover more from ICAEW Insights

Insights showcases news, opinion, analysis, interviews and features on the profession with a focus on the key issues affecting accountancy and the world of business.

Podcast icon
Insights Podcast

Hear a panel of guests dissect the latest headlines and provide expert analysis on the top stories from across the world of business, finance and accountancy.

Find out more
Daily summaries
Three yellow pins planted into a surface in a row
News in brief

Read ICAEW's daily summary of accountancy news from across the mainstream media and broader financing sector.

See more
A megaphone
Stay up to date

You can receive email update from ICAEW insights either daily, weekly or monthly, subscribe to whichever works for you.

Sign up