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Flexible working top priority for job seekers

Author: ICAEW Insights

Published: 25 Jan 2024

Employers need to offer more than pay rises to attract finance and accounting professionals, latest research shows.
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The accountancy labour market remains tight as we head into 2024 and with recruitment challenges showing little sign of easing, employers need to provide more than pay rises to attract professionals, new research reveals.

Recruiters expect competition for talent to intensify through the first half of 2024 with almost half of finance and accounting managers planning to boost headcount next year, according to research by recruitment firm Robert Half.

But the latest data suggests that employers need to offer more than the going rate to attract professionals.

The study shows that finance and accounting professionals are looking beyond financial incentives and are instead opting for additional benefits, with a working from home allowance topping the list of demands. Flexible benefits programmes, fuel allowance, meal vouchers and dental insurance are also priorities for new recruits.

Hannah Szymanski, Market Director Finance and Accounting at Robert Half, says: “While our data shows that pay inflation has increased across the remit, we are also seeing a rise in demand for more than financial incentives alone to move roles.

“For employers that are unable to continue with salary increases at current rates, this is good news, but it presents a new challenge in identifying what more potential candidates want.”

Christopher Demetriou, Co-owner and Finance at Archimedia Accounts, agrees that flexibility is vital to new recruits: “The most important thing I can do as an employer is provide employee flexibility like never before. 

“This means allowing employees freedom in when, where and even how much they work as long as they get the work done. Most traditional-minded employers don’t want to hear this, but it is the most effective way to get and keep new talent,” Demetriou says.

He says that his firm has found top candidates turn down pay rises of 10-15% higher than his firm’s offer because they prefer greater flexibility.

The desire for hybrid and remote working is further borne out by new research from accountancy recruitment firm, Wade Macdonald, which recently published its 2024 Salary Guide, surveying 850 accountancy and HR professionals. It found that flexible working was found to be the most popular benefit, with 88% of respondents valuing flexible working overall.

Chris Goulding, Managing Director of Wade Macdonald, says: “Full-time office and full-time remote roles are some of the hardest to recruit for. By factoring in how issues like long commutes and non-negotiable hours impact employee wellbeing, particularly those with disabilities or caring commitments, it’s understandable why employees would want the best of both worlds.

“Offering flexible working arrangements does not mean employees will always work from home. The choice is what makes the difference. Flexibility improves employee wellbeing and satisfaction, giving employees control over their time so they can thrive in and outside of work.”

The Wade Macdonald research found that three quarters of those at director level and above, 88% working in senior management and non-management roles, and a staggering 91% of management level recruits said they value flexible working as their top benefit.

However, the Wade Macdonald Salary Guide found that nine in 10 non-managerial employees are denied the option of flexible working, despite the recent passing of the Flexible Working Act.

Simon Gray, Head of Business, ICAEW, says: “Recruitment and retention of staff have been consistent challenges raised by ICAEW practice and business members throughout 2023. Although there are signs that pressures have started to ease, forward-thinking organisations continue to prioritise employee satisfaction and well-being.

“While salary will always be key, employees now want and expect much more. An organisation with purpose and clear values, flexibility on both the time and location work takes place and other benefits are of increasing importance. Working practices during the COVID-19 pandemic and challenges brought on by the cost-of-living crisis have changed both priorities and expectations, which are unlikely to reverse in the future.”

Pension contributions also figured high on employees’ wish lists. Pension contributions should also be on employers’ radars, especially as the cost-of-living crisis continues and people begin to worry more about their future financial well-being, the Wade Macdonald study found.

“A good pension contribution from an employer can remove some of the stress employees feel about their savings, meaning they are able to focus more on their work. People are aware that life is likely to get more expensive and this will have a knock-on effect later in their lives,” Goulding says.

“Offering a fair pension contribution, even to young employees who may be thinking less about retirement, will mean better outcomes in the workplace and more loyal employees.”

The Robert Half 2024 Salary Guide showed that salaries have risen for finance and accounting professions as employers negotiate a mix of skills shortages and the rising cost of living.

The highest average rise was seen in the accounting operations (9.6%) job category, although sales ledgers and billing clerks have reported the largest pay rises to as much as a 36.2% spike in pay.

Julie Corkish, Head of Practice, ICAEW, agrees. “For accountancy practices specifically, the pressure is on to find their unique selling point, enabling them to differentiate themselves from other firms. This could be related to ways of working and the level of flexibility available, the culture of the organisation, or to the type of work being offered. 

There is also recognition that the profession needs to better reflect the true breadth of opportunity to attract greater diversity of candidates and demonstrate the benefits offered by firms of all sizes, Cornish says.

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