Retaining Staff During a Time of High Turnover

According to a study referenced by the Society for Human Resource Management, American business is about to be hit by a “turnover tsunami.” More than half of North American employees plan to look for a new job this year. How will you retain your very best staff while taking advantage of the possibility of drawing in new, valuable talent from that tsunami? You need to offer your employees reasons to stay while showing potential new hires reasons to join your team. 

Offer a competitive salary and benefits and give regular raises or other compensation such as bonuses to ensure gradual upward movement in employee income. This is a must, but it is just the beginning of what your staff is looking for. People will work for less if they are experiencing value in other ways.

Cross-train your employees. This benefits both your staff and your company. When the staff members have varied work, they are less likely to get bored or burnt out and will enjoy their jobs more. This also prevents one person from being the “only person who can do it” – whatever “it” might be. This is an unstable condition for any company because if something happens to that one person, or if that one person leaves the firm, your ability to function efficiently will be compromised. So make sure no single person is the sole owner of any process in the company, and make sure your employees have a variety of tasks. 

Make professional development a priority. Cross-training is part of this process, but professional development refers to more formal education, through webinars and classes offered by the firm or other organizations, such as PSTAP. Give your employees “education time” so that they can occasionally take off work for their professional development, without feeling like they don’t have time because of a heavy workload. 

Offer work/life balance. While cross-training and professional development are important, make sure your employees are not overworked. Occasional overtime, especially during the busy tax season, is inevitable, but compensate appropriately and creatively, either with time off, additional pay, or gift certificates for something you know the person would really appreciate. And make sure the overtime is indeed “occasional.” If it is too frequent, you know you need to either hire more staff or improve your workflow. 

Communicate. Communication is key for retention in every institution. Are your people putting in a lot of overtime? Find out why. If it’s seasonal, communicate when you expect it will end and ask for suggestions to make things work more smoothly. If it’s chronic, ask for input on how to resolve it. Losing a few key people? Make sure you build up morale, get feedback on why they may have left and how you can improve, and find out how you can make your remaining staff happier. These are just a few of the ways you will need to really build a robust atmosphere of communication. Treat your staff as your partners in success and they will be more likely to commit to that success. 

Clarify potential career advancement paths within the organization. Take the time to talk to individual employees to find out what their future goals are, and help them map out a path within the firm to get them there. This personal attention will solidify their connection with your organization and make them feel like they have a real future with you.

Create a positive culture. Communication, cross-training, continuing education, and competitive salaries are important parts of creating a positive culture, but there are other factors, as well. Given that many employees have worked remotely for a year or more now, they have become accustomed to a certain amount of flexibility and autonomy that you will need to incorporate into your company culture, even as your staff begins to return to the office. Offer employees the opportunity to share their ideas and find a balance between the company’s needs and their own. Demonstrate a strong commitment to their work/life balance. Create an environment that is diverse and open to new and different ideas and that incorporates company values.

Treat exiting employees well. While the exiting person is still there to hear it, make a public statement to all your staff that you value the contribution this person made and that you will miss his or her presence. Offer the person a “leave of absence” option rather than a dissolution of employment. This could give the person time to find another position and possibly return if no better option arises. You may not be able to offer the same position, but if you have cross-trained well, you could hire the person back in another position. This respectful treatment creates great morale among remaining employees, as they will all feel valued, and it will also be seen as a plus for any potential new hires. 

By taking these steps, you should be able to retain your best and brightest staff while attracting new talent to help your accounting firm grow.