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Retention Issues Are Adding Up

Eight Strategies to Hold onto Valued Accounting and Finance Professionals

Competition for the most skilled accounting, finance, and audit professionals is growing at a time when the pool of candidates in many areas is shrinking.

A shortage of talented, experienced workers combined with the retirement of the first wave of Baby Boom-age professionals has business owners and hiring managers worried — and for good reason.

More than half (52%) of hiring managers surveyed by Robert Half International and cited the shortage of qualified workers as the primary recruiting obstacle they face.

But the challenge doesn’t end once companies find and hire good employees. Retaining top performers is also difficult. One-quarter (26%) of employees polled in the same survey said they are looking for new positions, and 44% plan on leaving their current employers within the next three years.

To gather the thoughts of some of the brightest minds in the field, our company recently formed the Robert Half International Financial Leadership Council — a distinguished group assembled to address issues facing the accounting and finance fields, including recruiting, retention, and globalization. The council consists of executives from business and private industry, public accounting, academia, and professional associations. Members discussed issues and offered potential solutions in a number of key areas.

Here are some of their observations and recommendations regarding the retention of peak performers:

‘Re-recruit’ Top Performers

You can bet that if you employ a number of talented and experienced professionals, there are plenty of other companies out there that have taken notice. Before your competitors have a chance to woo those workers away, you must ‘re-recruit’ them yourself. This means ‘selling’ them all over again on the advantages of working for your company, highlighting what’s unique and special about it.

Provide Well-defined Career Paths

While you should avoid making pie-in-the-sky promises, you should be able to help them envision tangible rewards on the horizon — including promotions, raises, performance bonuses, training opportunities, and profit sharing. This applies to both junior staff members as well as to those employees who already have considerable tenure.

While the old-style corporate hierarchies are a relic of the past, you can still create tiers of advancement within your business. In the context of performance reviews, talk to your employees about their aspirations and goals. Using their input as a point of departure, brainstorm ways you might structure job descriptions and positions to accommodate and advance those goals.

Foster Skill Building Through Cross-training

If your company is a small one with limited upward mobility, you may want to offer cross-training as a way to help staff develop new skills and stay motivated and interested in their work. Your employees will value opportunities to gain exposure to roles and projects not necessarily in their job descriptions or current competency areas.

The benefit for your company is that you will have a more versatile group of employees with a better understanding of how all the separate parts come together to make the whole.

Institute Comprehensive Mentoring Programs

In addition to traditional one-on-one mentoring relationships, consider setting up groups of mentors from various areas of the company who will focus on high-potential employees. Each group will meet regularly to brainstorm ways to help a specific top performer build on key strengths and achieve professional goals. To provide employees incentive to serve as a mentor, you might tie compensation and advancement to their success in developing the careers of their mentees.

Offer Alternatives to Full Retirement

Although approaching traditional retirement age, some of your older workers may not be ready to leave altogether, and you may not be ready to lose them. Instead, give them the option of alternative work arrangements, such as project-based roles, phased retirement, or cyclical work periods.

Your company will retain the knowledge and expertise of your most experienced workers, while enabling them to extend their careers and engage in meaningful work.

Explore Flexible Work Arrangements

A strategy best reserved for top performers, flexible work options can help you hold on to valued employees who might otherwise be tempted to leave. While some employers are wary of non-traditional arrangements, it is possible to set up mutually beneficial situations. The key is to tailor the alternative arrangement — whether telecommuting, flex time, or compressed schedule — to the individual employee. It’s also more likely to work if you hold employees accountable for integrating their arrangements into the overall schedule of the company.

Improve and Adjust Compensation

Money isn’t everything, but it still holds considerable importance for most employees. Periodically review your compensation and benefits structure to ensure that you are offering competitive wages and the types of benefits that are most valued by today’s workers. To ensure that all workers are fairly compensated, you may have to make adjustments in the salaries and benefits of your most experienced staff members before you modify starting or junior-level salaries.

Keep in Touch with ‘Alumni’

As you adopt new retention strategies and programs, you may find yourself wishing you’d done it sooner, so that you could have held onto valued former employees. But remember that in today’s job market, ‘good-bye’ doesn’t mean forever. These days, workers may transition in and out of employment over the course of their careers. Why not broaden the idea of retention to include them? Instead of forgetting about workers who have left your company, maintain contact and call these alumni when you have suitable openings.

Employee retention has become one of the critical staffing challenges of our time. Stable employment and lucrative compensation no longer have the influence they once did to keep workers with a company for the long term. When creating or refining your retention program, strive to select a combination of strategies that is affordable, sustainable, and compatible with your broader business goals. Effective retention tactics will enhance your company’s reputation as a desirable place to work — which not only helps you keep valued staff, but also serves as part of your recruitment strategy to attract more high-quality candidates in the future.

William N. Driscoll, New England District president, is based in Robert Half International’s Boston office. He oversees operations for RHI’s 17 offices throughout Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.

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