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Make your talent never want to leave


If you look after your team they will look after your clients. It will also stop them looking for jobs elsewhere.

25th Jul 2023
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Your staff (and subcontractors) should be treated as if they are your best client. It’s not just a nice thing to do – it makes commercial sense.

The cost of replacing a member of staff can be high in agency fees or adverts, time taken to train new people, work that you have to turn away – not to mention the stress on you and any team members covering the vacancy. With the current skills shortage that vacancy will be around for much longer than usual.

It goes without saying that you should pay a decent salary but what else can you do?

Flexible working is a high priority for many. With a low barrier to setting up on your own, I’m not the only accountant to build a flexible practice because I couldn’t get the balance I needed when I had small kids. It’s much easier to bend a little to give your team the environment they want.

Flexibility can mean part-time work or flexible start or finish times. When I ran Hudson Accountants we had a very high calibre of staff members because we offered flexible working and the ability to work from home. Since Covid, many staff don’t want to return to the office full time and some don’t want to return at all. 

At Kung Fu Accounting (KFA), the first B Corp accountancy business, Scott Johnson goes even further and offers his team unlimited holiday provided that all the work is completed on time. This ties in with its values of treating people as human beings, allowing them to enjoy their lives outside work, and encouraging them to prioritise family over work.

Culture change

It’s time for a culture change. Gen Z are joining the workforce and they’ve spent two years learning remotely during Covid. They communicate with their friends online using Discord and other apps. There’s no longer any need to have trainees in a physical office, so older accountants may need to rethink the benefits of having juniors sitting outside the door of their manager’s office. Give them a second screen so that they can have Teams, Chat, Slack, or something similar open throughout the day. 

KFA has an employee wellbeing fund where any employee can take up to £50 from the fund to address something that is a problem for them. The only requirement is that it is spent locally. This takes advantage of trivial benefits legislation and ties in with its value of making its hometown the best that it can be.

Valuing values

Gen Z, like millennials before them, are reputedly interested in the values of an organisation. Does your firm live their values? (Does your firm have any declared values?) Pillow May, run by Jessica Pillow, has PINK firm values of personal service, inspiring clients, nurturing clients and kinship. Every team meeting starts by recalling these values. It also displays the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals on the wall.

Pillow May also uses the trivial benefits legislation to provide regular gift cards to its team to spend at client businesses. 

It gives gifts such as theatre tickets, pony trekking experiences or just birthday cocktails. 

Pillow believes that it is relatively easy to keep your team happy at little cost. They all have comfortable chairs and standing desks. Happy staff transfer this positive experience to clients too. 

Both KFA and Pillow May have quarterly reviews to discuss what team members want to do as well as how they’re doing. 

These are fairly informal but result in making any necessary changes or investing in training. Both firms also hold weekly meetings and Johnson usually cooks a meal for his team. At Minerva Accountants we operate with a fully remote team so we hold daily “standup” meetings for 10–15 minutes to keep in touch. Communication is important.

There is plenty of information available to potential recruits. When did you last check what your staff are saying about you on Glassdoor for example? Will they enthusiastically encourage their friends to apply for your vacancies or will they urge them to avoid your clutches? Could you offer staff a bonus for staff introductions? 


Team ownership

Most Pillow May employees are also shareholders so they literally do have ownership of their work. Quarterly shareholder meetings are used to discuss the direction of the business and, in a reversal of roles, Pillow is required to answer questions from the team. Both Pillow and Johnson lead by example and don’t work long hours. This is better for their own wellbeing as well as encouraging their team to look after their own work-life balance.

Ad Valorem has an innovative approach to recruiting. Its recent acquisitions have been carried out, not just to add more clients, but to grow its team and offer additional service lines (audit). 

As a tech-focused business, Ad Valorem naturally attracts a younger age demographic, but those team members have been more vulnerable to silver-tongued recruiters who seduce them with the promise of very large pay rises even if they don’t have the experience to make a success of their new role in the long term.  

Embracing change

Incoming businesses usually have an older demographic and a static core team. The individuals may not like the concept of change initially but are fine once it happens. Before each acquisition, Ad Valorem MD Nikki Adams and her team spend a lot of time preparing both teams, not just the incoming cohort. They even set up buddy pairs using Belbin Team profiling as a reference so that the new staff can see somebody who is like them happy in their job. By taking the time to integrate both teams they retain more people following the acquisition.

Salaries, flexible working, trivial benefits and better communication can all help to retain staff. But don’t take my word for it. Ask your team what they want. One size doesn’t fit all so a flexible package should be different for each person. Depending on the size of your business you can chat to individuals or conduct employee engagement surveys. Software like Citrus HR has the ability to run these. Employees should be able to answer honestly. It’s okay to have a bad day and you should avoid an interrogation that may pressure people to respond with smiley faces or high scores or you may find out too late that, like Stevie Smith’s poem they’re “Not waving but drowning”. 

Looking after your existing team first will save you time, money and anxiety so why not start today by asking them what they want?

This article is an extract from our new editorial special report:“Alternative guide to solving your skills crunch”. Download the free guide to discover practical strategies and real-life examples for recruitment, retention and using outsourcing and automation as alternative solutions.

Replies (3)

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By Charity09
26th Jul 2023 13:10

Can you provide some examples of flexible working arrangements that businesses can offer to their employees?

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paddle steamer
27th Jul 2023 21:52

Ignoring money, holidays etc, the one thing that made me twice move employer was not enough new experiences/types of work etc.

In my 30s I wanted different work, new areas, exposure to things not previously done (IHT/Share valuations/more HMRC investigations etc) and that was difficult for a small firm to offer in decent quantity and without enough practical experience I could not readily move to another firm with more exposure within these areas. The net result was I ran each time into industry and the second time was 24 years ago and I never returned to wider practice (just played at it in my spare time/weekends to earn a bit more)

If I was still in my 20s/30s the only way I would be retained would be via varied/ different/more challenging work, this can be very difficult to offer in smaller firms which can feel a bit like a hamster in a wheel.(Prep accouts,Audit, some CT compliance, some IT compliance, a bit of CGT and very occasional business plans ,tax investigations etc)

I used to try to go to work every day and learn something new, as time passed that often became more and more difficult and the joy of practice thereafter withered.

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By Rosiewong
28th Aug 2023 08:20

Incoming businesses often have an older demographic and a stable core team. Initially resistant to change, these individuals adapt after the transition. Prior to acquisitions, Ad Valorem MD Nikki Adams readies both teams extensively, not just newcomers.

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