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January 4, 2023

How to retain employees and maintain morale during the labor shortage

When you work in public accounting, you spend most of your days crunching numbers and reading tax law. Lately, I’ve spent a lot more time reading between the lines on how to keep our 30-plus employees happy and engaged at our growing accounting firm. 

Since the pandemic started, an average of 4 million Americans quit their jobs every month. Within public accounting, we’ve experienced the highest turnover rate in industry history. With industry professionals doing double-time to stay ahead of changing tax laws, new pandemic-related programs and shifting tax deadlines, the Great Resignation has proven especially challenging. The industry is also experiencing significant consolidation, making it extremely difficult to attract and/or retain good employees.  

Tabitha Swanson in her office
Photo / Jim Neuger
CPA Tabitha Swanson, founder of the Swanson Group.

Over the last decade, the Swanson Group has acquired five public accounting firms and over those years, I’ve learned how to maintain morale and staffing levels, despite it being much harder to retain acquired employees. 

Here are a few things to consider: 

Make it personal. Get to know your colleagues’ hobbies, learn what sports their kids play, invest yourself in understanding how they work, and why they value their career. Productive relationships are always a two-way street — both parties deserve mutual respect and understanding. 

Chart a path. One of the most productive assets is a clear set of expectations. Begin with a “30-60-90 timeline” and set progress goals for the first, second and third month. This will reduce uncertainty (on both sides) of this new relationship. Once you’ve solidified expectations, start setting longer term goals and provide a path for upward mobility for tenured employees. Employees are more likely to stay in a job if they feel they have a future. 

Boost the bennies. Maintaining employees isn’t just about setting competitive salaries, it’s about providing additional value in other important areas —offer flexible work schedules, develop policies that enable working parents to better balance work and home life, or offer floating days off so that employees don’t have to use vacation time for unexpected problems that arise. 

There’s no “I” in “team.” Everyone wants to feel like a contributing member of a winning team. Deliver feedback consistently, create and follow progress plans, and check in frequently to determine the pain points in their day-to-day roles to see if you can proactively eliminate problems before they arise. Perhaps most importantly, interject FUN whenever you can.

Build a positive culture. One of the top reasons people leave their jobs is a toxic workplace (the other is higher salary) — building a positive atmosphere where people want to spend time is critical. Be transparent with all major changes, develop open lines of communication and build a team that enjoys doing things together.  

While talent retention is one of the most challenging for most of Maine’s small and large businesses this year, it has never been more important to invest in your staff. Businesses are only as strong and successful as the team they build — and that work starts at the top. 

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