What if your firm couldn’t hire, but you still wanted to grow. What would you do? That’s the challenge thousands of firms now face: on one side, an influx of clients who want more of their accountant’s time, and on the other, a meager trickle of job applicants. 

Our answer, and I’ve said this before, is simple: Ignore the talent shortage.

If you can equip and train your people, you can continue to grow without having to hire. You can achieve the same gains (or more) by creating a productive workplace, which starts with leveling up your accounting tech, policies, teamwork, and talent. 

How exactly do you do that? Jaclyn Anku of Gusto and Josh Lance, CPA, CGMA of Ignition, covered that in detail in an exciting new webinar where they also talked about the massive, hidden benefit to doing all this internal work.

The facts: The talent shortage is a firm’s biggest barrier to growth

The average firm’s revenue grew just 5.7% in 2020—the slowest rate in eight years—according to the Rosenberg Survey. And average annual billable hours have not grown in three years. The biggest reason they cited? An acute talent shortage. 

“The labor shortage in the accounting profession continues to have a major impact on nearly every firm,” says the report. To make matters worse, the number of CPA exam candidates is at an all-time low, says the AICPA. That can only make the projected shortfall worse.

Your best response: Empower your people

If the job market is tight, losing the people already on your team can be devastating. So rather than trying to hire, and offering bonuses to prospective new employees who haven’t yet proven their worth, give your time and attention to those who have—your existing workers. Look within your company, and ask, have we created a work environment where people want to stay and build a career? 

As the poet Rumi put it, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” Rather than looking outward, first look within.

Here are ways to go about that: 

Upgrade your company policies and tech: According to Gusto research, flexible work is now as important as paid leave, and second only to employer-sponsored healthcare. The so-called “great resignation” is really a reshuffling, as people look to renegotiate the parameters of work, and make it “work” around their personal life.

Are your firm’s benefits and policies creating an environment that makes it easy to stay?

An infographic on "what benefits are employees looking for?"

Source: The Guidance Gap

And on the tech side, consider that faster internet, better scanners, more ergonomic chairs, and laptops that allow people to take their work with them can make work more enjoyable. Because right now, tech is something you can pay for. Additional people—or replacement people—isn’t.

Upgrade your teamwork: Ninety-percent of accountants see accounting leaning toward online technologies. Accounting professionals and bookkeepers are spending more time than ever online, and taking a pause to optimize those work systems can quickly pay itself back. 

One survey of office workers found they believe they waste an average of 142 minutes each day on tasks they deem pointless. That includes:

  • Manual work that could have been automated
  • Meetings that could have been an email
  • Googling how to fix things
  • Waiting on others

You can free your people to be more productive by reducing the number of meetings (consider publishing a meeting manifesto—more about that in the webinar), replacing internal emails with threaded conversations via Slack or Teams, and getting everyone on the team certified in using your most-used software.

Invest in your talent: Young employees may value the opportunity to learn and grow over income, finds Gallup. According to the Work Institute, a lack of career development is the number one reason for turnover, and 77% of voluntary turnover is avoidable

As expensive as it may seem to invest in more training, consider the cost of losing your people. Or, as the common aphorism goes, consider the cost of keeping people you didn’t bother to train! Consider these steps:

  • Check in more frequently on your teams’ career goals
  • Give people side projects they find meaningful  which also help the business 
  • Provide training—free or paid—to help people develop their careers

For a great example of free, career-building training you can provide, look no further than Gusto’s People Advisory—participants will also earn five CPE.

What do you get for upgrading your tech, policies, teamwork, and talent? 

You create the sort of workplace where people feel valued and want to spend their career. And surprise, that creates the sort of workplace that’s still able to attract and recruit talent despite the talent shortage!

For more ideas on creating a great workplace, download our guide.

Christine Farrier I lead Gusto's channel marketing and communications efforts focused on audiences like accountants and ecosystem partners. I'm an NYC-based urban explorer whose social media handle ought to be "boring but exceedingly relevant." Connect with me on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/in/christinefarrier/.
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