The View from the Bottom of the Ladder: Firms That Understand Their Staff's Concerns Will Have Fewer Turnover Problems

By Larson, Joseph W. | Journal of Accountancy, February 1991 | Go to article overview

The View from the Bottom of the Ladder: Firms That Understand Their Staff's Concerns Will Have Fewer Turnover Problems


Larson, Joseph W., Journal of Accountancy


PA firms are under increasing pressure to cut costs and provide the best quality services. Staff management takes on greater importance as a result, since firms must find the best possible staff and hold on to them in order to avoid training and recruitment expenses. If firms are to attract and retain competent, dedicated employees, they have to understand how their new staff members perceive the firm and how some simple changes in operations and attitude can greatly enhance morale. This article discusses five of the issues most important to new staff members and offers advice on steps firms can take to build a stable, efficient staff. The suggestions are based on my experiences as a senior accountant.

THE COMMUNICATION GAP

A successful firm is built not only on technical competence but also on professional relationships. The key to successful relationships is communication. Accounting firms, like other organizations, have levels of hierarchy and information does not flow freely among the different levels. Staff accountants often are too intimidated to speak frankly with a partner or have too little confidence in themselves to raise an issue with a superior.

Firms must address this problem because lack of communication can create a host of difficulties. Consider the case of a staff member who realizes he or she has made an error on the job. The more comfortable this person feels admitting the mistake, the sooner the problem will be resolved. A partner who is perceived as unapproachable or unforgiving likely will not hear about errors until it's too late to correct them easily.

Although both partners and staff contribute to the problem, it is partners who must build a more open relationship. In one firm, a senior was unhappy with the area in which he was living and decided to look for a job in another part of the country. Because he was reluctant to tell the partner that he planned to move, he found a j ob with a different firm. When he tried to resign, the partner made arrangements for him to interview at their own firm's office in the new city and the senior ultimately accepted a job there, turning down the first job. The partner then gathered the staff together and encouraged them to give him the opportunity to help with their career plans. This kind of interest in employees' careers builds a loyal and more productive staff.

In contrast, in another instance, a topnotch staff person resigned because the partner clearly did not perceive her as someone who was dedicated to the firm. Ironically, she was highly respected among her peers and by her immediate superiors, but the partner never asked their opinions and they didn't feel comfortable offering them. The firm lost a good employee because of the partner's failure to learn more about his staff.

One way to bridge the communication gap is through a staff committee. Representatives from different levels meet regularly to discuss their concerns and those of their colleagues. The information is then passed on to partners, who receive an excellent idea of what's on employees' minds. These committees build camaraderie among staff members, offer leadership experience and help build dedication to a firm that shows an interest in employee ideas.

TRAINING

New staff people, particularly those just out of college, usually are full of questions about the firm and their roles in it. They frequently must be taught everything from how to prepare a workpaper to how to dress.

Most larger firms have formal training programs for new employees, but some smaller firms often offer no orientation at all. A staff person completes some paperwork, learns how to fill out a timesheet and is given a pile of papers to work on. This approach is frustrating for everyone involved: The new employee has no idea what is expected of him or her and the supervisor doesn't understand why the work isn't done as quickly as expected. …

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