Attraction and retention strategies for the accountancy job market

The shortage of accountants in Malta is no secret. Over the past years, the country had to recruit over one hundred foreign accountants in order to meet the market demand. The Malta Institute of Accountants today boasts a little over three thousand accountants within its ranks, while the Faculty of Economics, Management and Accountancy at the University of Malta produces around one hundred new accountants yearly. With such figures, the talent shortage in the accounting sector remains an on-going problem afflicting both small and large local firms. On the other side, candidates are literally spoilt for choice.

Organisations therefore face a multifaceted problem which does not end with effective vacancy advertising techniques and interviewing, but also encompasses finding the correct sourcing medium, liaising with the candidates, psychometric and skills testing and negotiating. All these factors will form part of an organic employee retention strategy with three main objectives in mind: acquisition, advancement and retention.

When it comes to acquisition, while larger and more known firms undoubtedly benefit from brand equity and a wealth of resources, smaller ones can emphasize their unique selling proposition to potential candidates and therefore highlight the benefits of working for a smaller and more agile organization. This encompasses creating a brand awareness campaign focussing on the distinctive characteristics of the corporate working environment. For instance, candidates can be shown how, through an organic on-boarding programme, they will be guided through the first weeks of their employment. This means creating an employer branding strategy and a culture of openness, by showing (with the help of audio visual content and social media) a typical working day at the firm. Streamlining internal processes is also critical in order to reduce the recruitment timeframe and not lose candidates to competitors. In a market where the demand is higher than the supply, you are likely to find yourself in a position where prospective employees have a bigger bargaining power than you and are actually selecting you rather than the opposite. Therefore make sure you are well prepped for interviews and, if need be, bring in an experienced external interviewer, who will be prepared to anticipate any “difficult” question, and can also give an independent and unbiased view-point to the selection. You might find it costly to bring in outside/external help for particular HR aspects, but in the long-run, this can be beneficial because the focus can be equally distributed among acquiring, advancement and retention. Allocating an adequate budget for HR has become ever-so important. Investments need to be made for the continuous care, mentoring and development of staff.

Discussing a clear career advancement path is also necessary during the selection stage. Giving the opportunity to employees to understand what success looks like in their current role and how they can progress within the firm, especially by offering them greater responsibility and involving them more in strategic decisions. A smaller organization may also mean faster career advancement for the right individuals and therefore the possibility of achieving partner status at a quicker pace.

It is also necessary to demonstrate how the firm encourages employees’ participation in networking events that allow them to interact with other professionals, and that it is willing to invest in their professional developments through training courses, personalised career development paths as well as a career development framework for all staff levels. It also helps to give them job rotation, this will help them understand the company procedures and how different functions integrate with each other. Allow your employees to experience work in accounting, audit, tax, consulting and so on. Again, this is likely to be an easier task for smaller firms with a less rigid structure.

Staff turnover problems are becoming bigger because HR professionals (or in the case of smaller firms, the employer) are focusing mainly on recruiting and have little to no time to dedicate to advancement and retention of employees. Critical to work retention is creating a welcoming work environment and the feeling of being part of a family, with direct communication through open door policies between all staff lines as well as amongst employees themselves, being sought and encouraged. A reward strategy for the best performing employees must also be in place. This means educating first and foremost your management, which are instrumental in motivating and engaging their teams, in showing appreciation and directly thanking their team members for a job well done and recognising their hard work. This aspect is obviously connected to employee benefit packages. Make sure they meet the needs and expectations of today’s workforce, and consider both monetary and non-monetary benefits, such as flexi hours (a very popular word in today’s workplace vocabulary). This is a good indicator of the fact that the firm is family-oriented and also career-oriented, thus giving the opportunity for employees to handle studies or other educational commitments. It also contributes towards reducing stress and burnout.

For the retention objective to be achieved it is also critical to understand that remuneration may not be the only factor motivating employees to stay with a company. Millennials are usually looking for more than just money, also valuing working conditions, a good work-life balance and the possibility of offering broader roles across tax, audit and corporate finance. A good salary therefore is not the only deciding factor in employees’ retention, but if you do not have other attractive elements then it will become the most important one.

Retention has become so critical that leadership needs to devote more time and energy to the “people” side of the business than ever before. It is for this reason that many employers have started introducing retention interviews, whose goal is to check in with high-performing employees long before they might decide to leave the company. The purpose of these interviews is also to find out what is motivating your employees to stay and what might entice them to work for a competitor. Retention interviews are also effective in making your workforce understand that you recognise and appreciate them and that you care about them, rather than just their performance. It also shows that you are open to making changes.

Last but not least, improve on the physical environment too by ensuring enough natural light, good air quality, room for relaxation and fun (you may want to create a small library for your employees to enjoy during their lunch breaks) and introduce a professional yet casual dress code that gives an element of comfort for employees.

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