Employees have become more engaged in their work and their companies in the past three years, making them more productive and less likely to switch jobs. But competition for skilled accounting and finance professionals continues to have CFOs worried about talent recruitment and retention, research by recruiting and consulting companies suggests.
About 60% of US CFOs said employee engagement had improved, but more than half (52%) were concerned the level of engagement wasn’t enough, according to a Robert Half survey of about 2,200 US finance chiefs.
That, combined with Robert Half data that indicate one-third of workers expect to be at a new job within six months, underscores the necessity of making employee engagement a top priority, said Kathleen Downs, a recruiting manager with the staffing firm. “As companies evaluate their overall risk, employee retention and succession planning have to go close to the top of that list,” she said.
Having an engaged and satisfied workforce means less turnover and higher levels of productivity. The level of employee engagement has a significant impact on how well a company does, according to PwC research. Companies with high employee engagement perform up to twice as well in financial results, customer satisfaction, and innovations as companies with low employee engagement.
Engaged employees feel that their opinions matter in the company’s decision-making process and that they add value. They are better performers because they are motivated to work towards a company’s goals.
“Companies with management teams that coach, interact, and treat employees as an integral part of the decision-making process tend to attract and retain happier and more productive employees,” said Genevia Fulbright, CPA, CGMA, the president and COO of Fulbright & Fulbright.
Reasons for the uptick, concerns
CFOs in Canada have noticed a similar improvement in employee engagement in the past three years, according to Robert Half. Most Canadian respondents were satisfied with the current level of employee engagement. Only 13% said they were still concerned, said Koula Vasilopoulos, a Robert Half district president in Canada.
One reason for the uptick in engagement levels is an improved economy. A few years ago, the US job market was grim, and many were satisfied just to be employed. The scenario has changed significantly, with the unemployment rate at 4.7% overall and even lower in the accounting profession. The US economy is projected to grow 2.3% in 2017 and 2.5% in 2018, according to the International Monetary Fund. Most advanced economies, including Canada, are projected to see 1.9% growth in 2017 and 2% growth in 2018.
Another consideration is the opening of top spots in company hierarchies as Baby Boomers put in their retirement papers. “At every level, people are seeing opportunities that just simply weren’t there before,” Downs said.
Executives should still be concerned about employee engagement and turnover in general, not just in finance and accounting. About 47% of US workers said now is a good time to find a quality job, according to a Gallup poll of 195,000 workers, and 51% of respondents said they are searching for new jobs or watching for job openings.
Only about one-third of the workers polled were engaged in their work and workplace, according to Gallup. Just 21% of respondents said their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. About half (51%) felt indifferent about their job and the work they’re being asked to do.
Gallup considers employees fully engaged when they know what is expected of them at work; they have all the materials and equipment to do the job; they are encouraged to develop skills; they feel ownership because their opinion counts, they have purpose, and they receive recognition; and they have a best friend at work.
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to boosting employee engagement levels.
In some workplaces, it can mean adopting policies with generous amounts of leave that encourage staff to take multiple vacations during the course of the year or significant time off when becoming new parents, said Tamera Loerzel, a partner with Minnesota-based ConvergenceCoaching.
One set of employees may be thrilled with the opportunities offered by existing management tracks, while another set is looking for chances to lead early on in their career.
Regardless, most employees want to know that “they have meaningful work and want to see their contributions,” Loerzel said.
Firm leaders can boost engagement by ensuring that development opportunities are available and that staff have chances to share their thoughts on how to develop business ideas, adopt workplace efficiencies, and have fun while at work, she said.
Not every engagement approach needs to be complicated, Downs said. One small company she works with, which has fewer than 20 employees, has a tradition of catering lunch from a restaurant of an employee’s choosing on that person’s birthday.
It’s a small gesture, but one that is treasured by the firm’s staff and has translated into a highly engaged workplace, she said.
To improve employee engagement, Robert Half, Gallup, Loerzel, and Fulbright offered these suggestions:
- Provide a clear vision. Define and convey your vision of the company clearly to your employees and help employees understand the role they play in that vision. Let your team members know they can come to you with questions and concerns. Employees are inclined to feel more connected to their jobs when they have productive work relationships with managers.
- Have clear career paths. Employees want to know how they can obtain promotions and what they need to work towards to obtain higher salaries and greater responsibilities, Loerzel said. Check in with team members about possible advancement opportunities and milestones needed to achieve them. Encourage your staff to pursue new projects and explore new career pathways. Interesting and meaningful work is a key factor in employee happiness.
- Provide perks. Offer benefits and perks that influence talent attraction and retention, such as flexible schedules, the opportunity to work from home, and office environments that offer privacy but don’t discourage collaboration.
- Survey staff. Have HR conduct anonymous surveys to find out what simmering issues there may be amongst associates. Be open to adopting suggestions for policies, efficiencies at the office, and fun events to boost morale. Solicit staff-level input on vacation and office leave policies, for example, and ask for ideas on how to improve sales or productivity.
- Incorporate pop-up committees. Gather groups of employees to form temporary committees to work on intra-office issues such as evaluating efficiencies in the office or developing new firm strategies, Loerzel said. Reach across all segments of the firm’s employees, and don’t limit membership to the usual suspects or executives. Provide a sense of ownership by having staff-level employees make presentations to the board. Once a project is finished, the committee can dissipate.
- Combine work with team-building. Think creatively of how to meet business goals in different ways. One firm for which Loerzel consulted had staff assigned to different areas of their city and tasked with identifying five prospective clients. Then, they spent a day reaching out to these prospective clients and dropping off gift baskets of cookies as thanks to existing clients.
- Take note of staff interests and workload. Make a point to learn about staff members’ goals and aspirations, as well as their passions outside the office. Ensure your team and company are staffed appropriately. Overworked employees are less likely to feel motivated and engaged.
Regardless of how a firm goes about increasing employee engagement, investing in existing staff is bound to pay off, Downs said. “We all know that it is more expensive to bring on a new hire than it is to retain your top performers,” she said.
— Sarah Ovaska-Few is a US-based freelance journalist. Sabine Vollmer (Sabine.Vollmer@aicpa-cima.com) is a CGMA Magazine senior editor.