Businesses in any industry contend with their own unique HR challenges, from managing talent to complying with labor and employment laws to navigating generational shifts in the workforce. CPA firms and other businesses in the accounting industry must cope with these issues while also staying on top of an ever-changing tax code and financial regulations. For these businesses, identifying which HR issues are particularly relevant to the accounting industry and finding solutions to overcome them are the keys to maintaining a successful workforce that delivers optimal results for clients.
According to comprehensive surveys of accounting firms of various sizes, here are the top five HR issues currently facing businesses in the accounting industry:
Recruitment and retention of qualified employees
Since the recession, accounting firms have dealt with a demand for qualified candidates that far exceeds supply. This trend is expected to continue. For the past few years, the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section (PCPS) CPA Firm Top Issues Survey has found that firms across all size categories are consistently ranking the recruitment and retention of qualified staff among their top three concerns. However, this issue is particularly relevant for smaller firms that may not be able to offer salaries as high as those offered by their larger counterparts.
In light of these challenges, accounting firms of all sizes should consider the following strategies to improve employee recruitment and retention:
- Invest in creating a better experience for job candidates. Organizations that offer a positive candidate experience may enjoy several benefits, including lower recruitment costs, a more efficient hiring process, and a stronger employer brand. The key to impressing candidates is to focus on transparency about the organization’s culture and the qualities of an ideal employee, communication at each step in the process, and respect for all candidates—even those who are ultimately rejected.
- Offer competitive benefits. Salary is not the only compensation-related factor that job candidates consider—employers may also gain a competitive edge by offering attractive benefits packages. For small and medium-sized firms, partnering with a third-party provider of HR services, like Creative Business Resources, is an affordable way to provide employees with access to full, corporate-style benefits.
- Ensure that the organization has a clearly defined mission that is communicated to all employees. By uniting the workforce around this mission, employees will realize the value of their work and feel more connected to the firm—thus supporting retention efforts.
- Encourage managers to take the time to learn about each employee’s individual goals and help them define their own career paths within the firm. Some highly skilled and valuable members of the workforce may not aspire to follow the traditional partnership track; these individuals should be assured that they will still have opportunities for growth and that the firm supports their needs and objectives.
Compliance with changing HR laws
Increasingly, cities and states across the country are enacting laws designed to protect workers’ rights. Examples include higher minimum wage rates, requirements that employers provide paid sick leave, and bans on seeking information about job candidates’ salary histories or criminal convictions. For many organizations, these laws present new costs, heightened administrative burdens, and the threat of penalties or lawsuits for failure to comply.
The first step in ensuring HR compliance is to review all state, local, and federal laws governing employers. Be aware that many of these laws vary from city to city and depend on factors like the size of the organization. Employers should then consult an HR expert to review the organization’s employment policies and practices and verify that they comply with the latest legal changes. Investing in professional guidance will help organizations avoid costly fines and resource-draining lawsuits that could damage their reputations.
Workload compression during tax time
The accounting industry is notorious for imposing crushing workloads on employees during tax season. While many employees simply accept excessive hours as a necessary evil of the profession, firms should be cautious about the risk of employee burnout. In addition, major accounting firms have been embroiled in lawsuits examining the question of whether lower-level employees are entitled to overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) when they work more than 40 hours in a week—as is the norm during tax time.
Firms should take steps to improve workflow efficiency and reduce the strain on employees during the busier times of the year. Here are a few tips:
- Promote work-life balance throughout the year and emphasize employee well-being as one of the firm’s core values. When possible, consider offering flexible schedules and work-from-home options. Not only will this serve as a powerful recruitment and retention strategy (particularly for younger employees, who are increasingly expecting flexibility in where and when they work), but it will demonstrate that your firm cares about employee satisfaction and help to mitigate the detrimental impact of long hours during tax season.
- Encourage employees to share their observations and suggestions for how the firm can better handle the tax time crunch. Their ideas may drive meaningful improvement for the firm, and demonstrating interest in their feedback will help employees feel more engaged.
- Adequately train lower-level staff so they can offer maximum assistance during busy season. Once these employees are knowledgeable about both substantive and procedural matters, encourage more experienced employees to offload some of their tasks to them.
Over the past several years, Baby Boomers have been retiring in droves, forcing organizations in all industries to train younger employees to take over their responsibilities. The accounting industry may be particularly affected by this trend: the AICPA has estimated that in the next twenty years, approximately two-thirds of its members will retire. With this alarming statistic in mind, firms must bolster efforts to recruit, train, and develop high-potential employees who may be able to assume partnership positions.
The following steps will help firms navigate generational shifts in their workforces:
- Have a formal succession plan in place. This requires firms to identify high-potential employees, determine their unique strengths and which roles would be the right fit for them, and invest in their training and development. Often, firm partners and managers feel that they are too busy performing billable work to spend time developing “rising star” employees. However, succession planning will be most effective if it is started early—well in advance of partners’ anticipated retirements.
- Use online courses, mobile apps, and other forms of technology to train employees. These tend to be cost-effective training mediums that will help keep younger employees engaged in their career paths.
Changing employee roles due to automation
With the burgeoning use of artificial intelligence, employees in most industries will experience changing roles as automation takes over various
tasks traditionally performed by humans. The Boston Consulting Group estimates that by 2025, up to 25 percent of existing jobs will be replaced by automation. Among the most likely roles to fall victim to this trend are tax preparation and accounting. However, as accounting industry professionals increasingly find that the more routine aspects of their jobs have been taken over by technology, they are also facing expanding client demands and expectations. Specifically, it is becoming more common for clients to view their accountants as overall financial and business advisors. Accountants can adapt to these changes by expanding their knowledge and skill sets—and firms can gain competitive advantages by offering their employees forward-thinking training opportunities.