What Firms Can Do to Stop Pushing Talent into Competitors’ Hands

Barry TomOur industry’s workforce is changing rapidly and is skewing younger than ever. Retaining this workforce requires changing our mindset and introducing innovative programs that allow for balanced lives. CPA firms must be aware that individuals have needs and wants that go beyond work. Firms that have a legacy of long hours and weekend schedules and don’t allow for balance will undoubtedly have retention issues. Younger workers do not want that kind of work environment and are aware they have other choices. It is also wise to pay attention to evolving generational attitudes, as younger workers do not feel tied to a single firm. They have a different mindset on what loyalty means, and can be quick to move to another opportunity.

In order for a firm to successfully retain talented people, it needs to acknowledge that each employee is a whole person and give employees the opportunity to take care of all aspects of their lives. At my firm, we allow employees opportunities for regular self-care and give them the opportunity to spend quality time with their families. Most importantly, recognizing that “family” may be different for everyone and doesn’t always look like two - three kids and a dog – it’s important to give equal weight to any relationships that provide a valuable emotional support system. To be successful, our talent needs to be in balance in all aspects of their lives for their overall well-being and success; firms need to incorporate a “be more” philosophy.

This philosophy pushes a firm to encourage employees to be the best they can be and enjoy life to the fullest. Why? Healthy people create a healthy firm, and a healthy firm attracts and retains the best and the brightest. Firms should consider a commitment to anytime/ anywhere work, support of a flexible work environment and financial encouragement towards individual health and wellness, so that employees can live their best lives.

I have put this philosophy to work in my own life. I’m a father of four kids, and my life at home is often busier than life at the office. “Work-life balance” and “flex schedule” are two phrases that have been thrown around and are overused in the accounting profession. In concept, they are great. They provide the opportunity for me to fit more things into my day. In reality, work life balance and flex programs have just made us all busier. Finding ways to do the important things in life with intention, at both work and home, becomes something leaders must model and share to influence firm culture.

Creating New Career Paths

Another reason firms can lose employees to the competition is career paths tend to get narrower, choking off opportunity to grow and develop. That is only true if there is a rigid system in place. Firms need to look for ways to help people customize their careers and have the goal to give people the opportunity to do more things — which they traditionally might not get the opportunity to do. In my own career, I had the opportunity to sit on the executive committee early on, which has been invaluable to my new role as managing partner. I also have headed the information technology strategy and planning for the firm for the past 10 years, which reflected one of my personal passions and turned out to be another key contributor to my future success. As a firm, we have an ongoing process to define, execute, and refresh our firm’s vision, and we encourage everyone to get involved with the firm’s long-term strategy much earlier in their careers than most firms would. This encourages buy-in and retention, as well as develops some great ideas.

Getting People Involved in Innovation

A firm that has a passion for innovation can also retain talent. Most firms that are successful find ideas to innovate not only outside but also from within the firm. One way we express that is through our Innovation Incubation Lab. Our employees submit ideas about ways the firm can start to do things in a more innovative way. There is a $5,000 prize, and ideas can be for any area, such as talent management, technology, billing, timekeeping, new service offerings or internal efficiency processes.

For example, we incorporate this idea by asking that any ideas submitted reflect one of the three central parts of our firm’s vision: 1) our success is driven by retaining the best, diverse talent; 2) we invest in our people and technology to deepen firm expertise and fuel sustainable growth; and 3) we partner with our clients locally and globally to deliver innovative solutions. The process is transparent throughout but the only caveat is that the employee submitting the idea must be willing to spend the time necessary to help bring the idea to fruition, if chosen.

We Are in This for the Long Haul

If a firm wants to retain talent, then it’s essential to view these strategies as long-term and work toward them every day. One of our core values is to grow great people. By being able to really promote and execute on a healthy work/ life philosophy, any firm will allow people to break out of the traditional confines of work and expand things in their personal lives and with themselves. By far, the most important thing is to embrace a “be more” philosophy and make it a central part of how to treat each other. It has a direct correlation with retention; your firm will see lower turnover and more productive individuals in serving clients and developing other people. Allowing people to have success in life will translate to success at the firm and gives them a tangible reason to stay and grow with your firm.

Tom Barry, CPA is a partner at Green Hasson Janks, a Los Angeles accounting firm that specializes in nonprofit, food and beverage, health and wellness, and entertainment and media companies. Barry can be reached at tbarry@

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