Articles 1- Retention

COCPA – Retention

The Retention Riddle: What Does It Take to Keep Your People?


Summer 2022 | 31



How can the accounting profession encourage

its best and brightest talent to stay when so many other options exist today?


Since April 2021, more than 19 million U.S. workers have quit

their jobs – a record pace. According to a September 2021

global study by McKinsey & Company, 53 percent of employers

say they’re experiencing greater voluntary turnover than in previous

years, and 64 percent expect the problem to continue or worsen over

the next six months. In fact, 40 percent of employees say they’re at

least somewhat likely to quit in the next three to six months.

Why should you care about employee retention instead of just letting

them go? First and foremost, it’s expensive. According to the Society

for Human Resource Management (SHRM), it costs an average of six

to nine months’ salary to replace a worker.

COCPA Chair Angela Roberts, CPA, managing director of Aclivity,

sees firsthand how much money employee departures cost employers.

First, there’s the time it takes for a new hire to get up to speed

and produce at the same level as current employees. Additionally,

employers also likely are overworking their other people during a

job search. Clients may not have anyone to contact. “That burden

costs reputation, time, and money,” she says. “There is an additional

risk when the other people start to think about leaving.”



It’s not always about the money. “Money is enticing, but when you

ask young professionals why they’re leaving, it’s about their time,”

Roberts says. “This newest generation is plugged in all day, and they

don’t want to work overtime or around the clock because they don’t

see the benefit or value in it. They have hobbies. They have side hustles.

They don’t believe their career is the only way to make money.

They are smart and can do different things.”

So, beyond money, what do today’s young professionals want? A

remote work option. “No one wants to work 10 to 15 hour days; they

don’t even want to come into the office two days a week,” Roberts

says. “They want the flexibility to live in different cities or even

countries. People want to enjoy their jobs and their hobbies.”

According to Upwork’s Future Workforce Report 2021, nearly 28 percent

of respondents are expected to be fully remote in the next five years.

That increased from 22.9 percent in November 2020.

Roberts says she still hears that people want to believe in a company’s

mission. “They want to know what you are doing, how you are

doing it, and that yours is a company they can stand behind,” she




To address employees’ interest in working in a flexible workstyle,

BDO introduced BDO Flex more than a decade ago. Partner Erin

Breit, CPA, says the program has formally evolved through discussions

from the national level down through the local offices. “The

workstyle and strategy encompass everything,” she explains.

BDO Flex addresses not only part-time employees who have different

hours but also where employees want to work. “We trust

our employees to get all our work finished. We prioritize outcomes

rather than where or when they’re working,” Breit says. “We train

our teams to communicate to let everybody do what they need to do

to have a good work + life fit.”


Local offices can make changes as needed, as can individual teams

like audit and tax. “They just have to communicate their needs,

when and where they’ll be working, and put a plan together,” Breit

says. “We encourage robust, open communication. It allows team

members to prioritize their work outcomes over the hours they’re

putting in and where they’re working. It leads to a less stressful work

environment. Being able to do everything in your life that you enjoy

outside of work while still having a career is important.”



Doug Slaybaugh, CPA, CGMA, PCC, CPCC, founder of The CPA Coach,

says evening out what he calls the pendulum of public accounting is

key to attracting and retaining good people. “Firms swing hard in the

direction of the moment,” he explains. “You have an opportunity to

create sustainability in the middle. What can you proactively do for

the good of your people to create a place that lands the pendulum in

a viable and intentional state?”


Last September, Slaybaugh wrote a LinkedIn blog post: A public

accounting experience to stay for. It was actually written for a mentor and

public accounting firm partner to offer ideas to help create a better

experience for firms and their people.


One idea came from the automotive industry: Toyota is famously

known for asking “why” five times to uncover the cause and effect

of a concern. Slaybaugh recommends asking your team five “what”

questions to better understand their circumstances and the roots of

their concerns. He provided some examples: What is on your mind?

What would be better? What more can you tell me? What else?


“‘Why’ creates a position of defensiveness,” Slaybaugh explains. “Why

did you do that? Why did you think that? So much more is possible

with ‘what.’ It doesn’t imply judgment and allows your team to do

the thinking. It leaves a wide berth to be curious. By asking those

‘what’ questions and really digging in, you can move from general

and conversational to specific and impactful.”



Slaybaugh says people often leave jobs without ever asking for what

they really want or knowing what they could have had from the

current employer. Job crafting can help prevent that from happening.

It involves three components:


Task Crafting: Changing up responsibilities. Changing the nature of certain

responsibilities or dedicating different amounts of time to what

you currently do.

Relationship Crafting: Changing up interactions. Changing up who we

work with on different tasks, who we communicate and engage with


Cognitive Crafting: Changing up your mindset. By changing perspective on

what we’re doing, we can find or create more meaning about what

might otherwise be seen as ‘busy work.’ Sweeping floors at a hospital

might sound like it isn’t fun and is just dirty work, but someone

sweeping the floors might also love the job because it helps save lives

by keeping a clean room and environment for patients to recover.


“You can job craft a better reason to be doing what you’re doing,”

Slaybaugh says. “It’s a process to go through these retention steps, and

it’s usually skipped. You find out in an exit interview when you hear

things like: ‘If only you’d given me more challenging tasks, a different

team, or a different manager, or if I understood the impact of my

work.’ But by then, it’s too late.”


People often leave jobs without

ever asking for what they

really want or knowing what

they could have had.

Slaybaugh recommends conducting stay interviews with your team.

A stay interview is an exit interview designed to happen before someone

quits. “Ask the tough questions. Ask what would make the job

better? What would make you leave? Have you thought about leaving?

What can we do to improve? Find out what’s going on and then

use job crafting to better align with the employee’s expectations.”


Roberts says stay interviews also can be helpful to determine if a

potential move is simply about money. “If it is about money, pay

it,” she asserts. “If you don’t, you’ll just end up paying a recruiter a

percentage of the new base salary to find someone else. If you think

someone is at risk of looking for a new position, have the conversation

and make the investment.”



Slaybaugh says firms are reacting to these circumstances in three

major ways:


  • Cash remains king. Whether it’s end of season bonuses, bigger

raises or spot bonuses, money usually talks.

  • More time off. This could be PTO, an extra day off, or just more

time off in general.

  • Some form of hybrid flexible working arrangement in some or all



He believes what really can have an impact on the profession and its

people is better conversations, especially around the public accounting

experience and well-being. Slaybaugh says accounting leaders

know how to be mentors, but the soft skills needed to get in touch

with what’s important to their teams might not be in their playbook.

He suggests training to build those skills. “Because of our problem-

solving reflex as CPAs, we don’t go deep enough,” he observes.

“What we really need to do is listen, create situations for people to

be heard, and ask the right questions so we can gain a better understanding

of what’s going on.”


Ultimately, Slaybaugh suggests opening your mind to all possibilities

for retention. “Don’t be so worried about finding the right answer,”

he encourages. “Be creative! Seek options that are original, personal,

or aren’t typically offered. Do something that grabs the attention of

your people or that you hadn’t thought possible.”



Every time Roberts works with a candidate, she asks what he or she

would like from the next job or employer. These direct quotes from

candidates are enlightening:


  • Work life balance is very important to me. I would love to work

at a company that doesn’t just parrot that it promotes/encourages

work life balance. I would like to work where people at all levels

of the company live it. I understand that accounting/tax is deadline

driven, and there will be weeks throughout the year where I

will be required to work more hours than usual. However, I don’t

want to work somewhere if this is the case all year. I don’t want

to feel I constantly have to put out fires.


  • I want an employer who invests resources in employees and

wants to see them grow within the company. Ideally, I will be at

the next company for years. I am not interested in job hopping.

Good/healthy company culture where management/higher ups

want to see employees grow with the company and help to facilitate

that. I would like my employer to support my efforts to learn

and improve by offering in depth training/training opportunities,

goal setting, regular feedback, and skill building.


  • I see myself working in a mid-size to large company. I am not

interested in working in public accounting. Any industry is fine if

it is stable and has good long-term potential. I want to work at a

company that has a sustainable business and can provide growth

for its employees.

I am not picky about my job title as long as the company I work

for, and the job, meet the other items on my list.


  • With the world being so volatile (which I don’t anticipate changing

anytime soon), I would like to work for a company that is

financially healthy/stable and in an industry that has long-term

potential. I want to feel confident that the company I work for –

and my role – is secure and that I have job security (assuming that

I am a dedicated, hard worker and high performer in my role,

which I am confident I will be no matter where I work).


  • I am open to working in office, hybrid, and/or remotely. I would

prefer that if the job requires employees to be in office it will

be within walking distance from where I live or conveniently

accessible via public transit. I am open to job opportunities that

are outside of Denver and Colorado if they are remote and/or if

they only require in-office work (i.e., travel to their office/headquarters

for big meetings and/or projects) sporadically throughout

the entire year.


  • A company that has systems, processes in place, and provides to

its employees the resources to do the job. I don’t want to be putting

out fires every day.


“This generation is telling us, ‘I’m here, and I’m smart enough,’ so let’s

figure out ways to do things better,” Roberts says. “Telling them we’ve

always done something a certain way won’t fly. They have ideas for

new ways of doing things and can contribute. We gave this generation

a seat at the table when they were being reared, so they’ve always had

a voice. Now, they expect it when they go to work. If you don’t listen,

they feel disrespected and walk away.”



What’s at risk if organizations don’t change how they think about



“The profession as a whole is at risk,” Slaybaugh cautions. He points

to an English study that revealed people consider accounting the

second most boring profession. The most recent AICPA Trends report

shows accounting firms continue to hire more non-accounting graduates

as work continues to be realigned, outsourced, or replaced by

technology. “That’s all fine unless we’re not creating other opportunities

for accountants,” he says. “Think of it like a movie. How do we

get people in seats? We put out something people want to see. If we’re

not going to do that, we’ll lose them. The experience itself is where

it’s at – creating the best experience for accountants.”



Above all, Breit says trust your employees to do their work. “Most

organizations can have some version of a flex work environment

where the priority is completing quality work by the deadline,” she

says. “If you’re in management, it boils down to trust. Without it, the

flex work arrangements won’t go well because you’ll always question

what people are doing.”


Breit says she cannot emphasize enough the importance of communication

between team members and establishing clear guidelines

and expectations. To that end, several years ago, BDO’s Denver office

hired an outside consultant to provide communication training. “That

served as our foundation,” Breit says. “Trusting your employees helps

with motivation and achieving the outcomes you want. Management,

trust your people!”



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