The accounting profession has long held a reputation for being a stressful career option. This perception was substantiated by a 2019 survey by the U.K-based mental wellbeing organization Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association (CABA). While that research is from the U.K., it mirrors trends shown by the AICPA showing that only 2 percent of accountants surveyed were unaffected by stress, 37 percent said their job was the main cause of stress, and 29 percent referred to difficulty maintaining work-life balance.
The reality is that accounting can be a demanding vocation, particularly from January through April each year, so how can your firm successfully attract and retain high quality employees and ensure they’re not experiencing burnout? One way is through a comprehensive benefits program.
Benefits today extend beyond the traditional options such as medical and retirement plans. While employees still value those offerings, they also consider more ancillary benefits and perks when deciding whether to accept a job offer or remain where they are. Some employees even rank benefits above salary when considering job options. In a 2018 AICPA survey, 80 percent of respondents said they would choose a job with benefits over an identical job that offered 30 percent more salary but no benefits.
Understanding the importance of these offerings, some of the employee benefits and wellness initiatives your firm may want to consider may include:
Unlimited paid time off – Today’s employee has a different outlook on work than hard-driven Baby Boomers who are aging out of the workforce. An insistence on work-life balance is real, no longer the stuff of lip service as it tended to be for that generation. The commitment to promoting this balance is set in stone at firms like The Bonadio Group, which offers an unlimited paid time off (UPTO) policy. As the majority of accounting firm employees endure a long and hectic busy season, allowing them to take the time off they want and need throughout the year is one way to ease the burden of that timeframe. The guidelines of such a policy are customizable so firms can implement this benefit in a way that works for both management and employees and does not disrupt regular operations.
Training and development programs – Professional development is an ongoing employee desire and essential for a firm to maintain a competitive advantage. It makes sense to provide creative, motivated associates with an environment in which they can excel and progress to the level to which they aspire (a departure from when employees were expected to fit company-provided opportunities and mandates). Committing to providing lifelong professional learning opportunities can take the form of training, CPE courses, and informal and formal mentoring programs, all of which we organize, support and nurture.
A CPA study materials reimbursement program – While young professionals are eager to learn and take the necessary steps to grow in their careers, the cost of career development programs and certifications necessary to advance can be overwhelming, especially on top of student loan payments, rent, car payments, food, utilities and more. To help ease this burden on employees, many firms cover the cost of CPA study materials up front, an expense that would otherwise could total more than $2,000. Removing this financial barrier lessens one stressful factor of this already demanding exam and is a good example of your firm’s commitment to continuous learning for its employees, as well as its dedication to personal and professional growth.
Employee appreciation and recognition programs – Especially when they’re putting in long hours, employees want to feel acknowledged for their commitment to the company and its customers. Consider establishing a reward program that ties a point system to the formal recognition that an employee receives for going above and beyond in the workplace. Once the points have accumulated, employees can cash them in for a gift card or choose an item from a myriad of options. You may also consider announcing the employee(s) and the significant impact they’ve made on the firm’s overall strategy at a firm-wide employee event or, if your firm’s offices are far-reaching geographically, in a video that’s shared via the company intranet.
Special tax season perks – There may be little you can do to ease the workload and stress of busy season, but you can create opportunities for mental breaks and help improve other aspects for your employees’ lives – seemingly little things can make all the difference. When team members have to come in on the weekends offer catered breakfast and lunch or host weekly happy hours to give employees a designated time to unwind. The Bonadio Group has a much-loved annual tradition of bringing in therapy dogs from local animal shelters and offering in-office massage services to create mid-day reprieves from tax season stresses.
While traditional benefit offerings are often contingent on a number of budgetary and regulatory factors, the above perks are some that any accounting firm can adapt and customize to fit the company culture and meet employees’ needs. When determining which benefits to incorporate at your firm don’t hesitate to poll those who will be utilizing these perks – your employees. Create a structure utilizing various forums to better understand what your workforce needs and ensure that they’re feeling heard from the start.
The accounting profession is only as solid as its people. And, as in many other arenas, turnover is a constant concern. While the accounting profession evolves in many ways through technology, new services, and more, it’s important to remember that the business needs to evolve in conjunction with the shifting needs of your employees to successfully meet/address their expectations.
Heather Rudes is senior director of human resources at The Bonadio Group.
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